Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Such is politics, such is life

We, the students of Stanford University, according to our founding principle, promote public welfare in behalf of civilization. We are taught the blessings of liberty and cherish the freedom of speech. Our debates are characterized by their intellectual vitality, thoughtfulness and reliance on mutual respect. When the FLIP challenges our ideas, we publish screenshots of their GroupMe and call them liars. When The Review challenges our ideas, we just imply that they are racists. When someone disagrees with us, we commandingly end all debate by employing our deadliest, most critical response: “Na-ah, you’re stupid!”

Indeed, we are a well-educated bunch.

We can’t be swayed by populism. We vote for the ASSU Senators who we think best represent our personal beliefs, concerns and opinions. Did you see that guy who posted his face looking down on the Arrillaga urinals saying, “That’s almost as impressive as my election statement?” That dude was funny. Hehe. Hilarious. Yeah — we vote for him!

And we seem to represent a global trend.

Politics, by definition, is debate. It’s all about listening to opposing ideas, learning from them and enriching our own beliefs. But it sure does have its problems. It’s messy, it takes years to get anything done, it seems to value only the loudest voices and it’s just plain frustrating. But is there an alternative?

Evolutionarily speaking, we are insecure creatures. We want to rely on something that is bigger than ourselves. Early humans relied on fire to guard themselves from predators. Neolithic villagers sought refuge in nature. As civilizations grew, people invented governments to protect and guide them. The state rose above the people almost as a supreme being. The Pharaohs, Caliphs and Monarchs of the old world were Gods walking amongst men: the rightful owners of everything and everyone. And today, every time we glorify a democratically elected leader as a hero, a protector, a savior, we are comforting our inner Neanderthal that only wants to seek shelter in a flame. This desire for and worship of a strong leader has left our societies divided. And this problem is more universal than you think.

Over the past decade, we have seen the rise of people that are against politics. People like Tayyip Erdoğan, Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin, who downplay compromise and advocate strong-will. They are, in a way, so blinded by narcissism that they begin regarding opposition as enemies that must be crushed; all they want is unyielding victory. These people, very much like Donald Trump, only care about winning, winning and winning some more.

Most journalists attribute the popularity of Trump to the people’s frustration with the dreaded Establishment and the slow-footedness of its endless debates. But I think that he represents a deeper frustration, one against politics in general. As Dana Milbank points out, no one wants to hear Cruz say: “The notion of neutrality is based upon the left buying into this moral relativism that is often pitched in the media.” No. They want someone like The Donald to step up, drop the Princeton talk, drop the discussions, and simply say, “I am totally pro-Israel.” They want to be told that everything is going to work out fine, that they are going to win, that it’s going to be great, that it’s going to be huuuuuge. People are simply tired of the messiness of politics; they want a strong and reassuring leader. And as more and more people give up on the notion of discussion and ideas, the innate violence and polarization that is attached to strong leadership (which is a cute word for authoritarianism) comes into play. Just look at Trump’s campaign.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Ave. and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,”

“I’d like to punch him in the face.”

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

These statements are entirely based on violence and intolerance. And as he gains traction, the US is growing more and more polarized. Although people all around the world have highlighted the potential threats caused by polarization, it seems like a little degree of polarization is just a manageable by-product of democracy. But what happens when it rises to unmanageable levels? A Pew Research Center survey said that 36 percent of Republicans in 2014 “saw the Democratic party as a threat to the nation’s well-being,” while 27 percent of Democrats saw the Republicans as a threat. I’d imagine that this percentage only grew in this past year.

But a threat? Let’s ponder what that word implies. Threat [Noun]: a menace that restricts freedoms, a person to likely cause damage, a possibility of ruin…

This is how civil wars start.

Even worse, this is how international wars start.

The rise of hard-liner leaders and polarized societies everywhere has created an even more polarized world that is dominated by an endless series of conflicts. The U.S. and China are in the brink of fighting in the South China Sea. ISIS is only one of many extremist terror groups that are bound to haunt civilization. Even E.U. siblings Germany and Greece view one another with contempt. What has become of us? When did we give up on ideas to clench our fists? Nicolas Henin was a French journalist who was held hostage by ISIS for 10 months. This was the first thing he wrote after being freed: “They fear our unity more than our airstrikes.”

It is up to us to follow Henin’s advice. We are no longer the helpless cavemen who had to pray to the fire that his chieftain would keep him safe. Electing a strong leader and letting him divide us into smaller factions is no longer the answer. Polarization and authoritarianism can only be avoided if we cease judging events through individuals and ideologies through leaders. When we debate, we must not attack one another over GroupMe messages. When we vote, we must consider the ideas and not the funny face standing on top of the urinals. From the Presidential elections to campus politics, we must realize that we are part of a much bigger world, which can only be saved if we unclench our fists and talk. The talks will be long and often times frustrating. But what other choice do we have? Such is politics. Such is life.

 

Contact Ali Sarilgan at sarali19 ‘at’ stanford.edu

  • Spot on

    We are feeding the polarization just as much as Trump does when we become so vulnerable to dismiss them outright based on who says it.

    The campus would like to think that it is open to discuss anything, but the scramble for safe spaces made certain crucial debates impossible to have.

  • John

    I really like your articles, keep up the good work. And nice to see that you’re running for senate, you’ll be a good one.