I am not a Republican, nor am I a Democrat. I guess that makes me an independent, or some obscure alternative party I have yet to discover, but whatever you want to call it, I have equal distaste for both ends of the spectrum of political extremism.

Now, in no way am I saying the parties are made up of bad people. In fact, I’m of the apparently unpopular opinion that most people vote and identify the way they do based on their moral compasses and sincere desire to make the world a better place, not thirst for power or hatred for anybody.

My belief in the general goodness of people, that their politics are basically motivated by a desire to do good even when they are misguided, is exactly what fuels my distaste for the concept of political parties. Today’s political sphere seems to be founded on catty hatred and mistrust of people with differing viewpoints.

There are genuinely good people on both sides of the spectrum. But when they reduce themselves and others to their political parties, they become the repulsive caricatures their opponents accuse them of being.

“Hi, I’m a Republican. God loves you, and you’re going to hell. Every law should be based on my religious beliefs that even other religious people might not share. Let’s keep America as Christian, straight and English-speaking as it was always meant to be. Sexism, racism and all other forms of systematic oppression are figments of the Democrats’ imagination. I am a holy crusader in the face of America’s corruption.”

“Hi, I’m a Democrat. I respect and tolerate everyone, except Republicans, Christians, people who express the smallest viewpoint I define as ‘conservative,’ straight white men, and people of any religion that isn’t associated with a racial minority, because I am NOT RACIST like those ignorant, backward Republicans and Christians. Religion is the root of all evil in this world; everyone who believes in anything more important than science and sex are uneducated, brainwashed rednecks. Why is everyone a racist homophobe but me?”

Thank goodness these are over-simplifications. These strawmen are, fortunately, usually confined to the Internet, which has a way of turning us all into self-righteous, one-dimensional bullies the moment certain subjects are broached. The Internet becomes the face of all this unpleasantness and stupidity because, when they exist outside the vacuum of onscreen text and political quibbles, real people are far more complex than a political affiliation. When we forget that, tripping over ourselves in our eagerness to showcase the moral superiority of our politics, of course we’re going to end up looking like narrow-minded buffoons on all ends.

Maybe I could stomach the concept of political affiliation if there weren’t such intolerance between the parties. I thought the beauty of this country was our freedom to believe what we do and vote according to our own consciences without fear of being called immoral, backward, unpatriotic, uneducated, stupid or hateful by our neighbors. Did it ever occur to us that maybe people on the other side of the fence believe as strongly as they do about these things for genuine, peaceful reasons and are not out to get us with their beliefs? Why can’t we respectfully debate issues, maybe even learn from each other, without reducing the people to their politics? Believe it or not, there are other ways to look at the world besides your own, and there aren’t always awful ulterior motives like “destroying the foundations of America” or “converting the world to their religion.” I’d guess that, the majority of the time, they really are just doing what they think is right.

If I had my druthers, we’d all respect that other people might have different definitions of “right” and stay gracefully quiet about ours unless asked or, obviously, our liberties or others’ are being threatened — not out of cowardice or shame, but out of respect for the fact that not everyone sees it the way we do, and that it’s useless and wrong to judge them for exercising that right. But if you want to talk about it in a constructive way, try actually talking to people in person about it. Rather than waiting on tenterhooks for them to say something you can be virtuously offended by and chastise them for, keep an open mind and try to genuinely understand why they believe what they do. Odds are good that their motives are basically the same as yours.

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