This Is What Happens When Your Opponent Becomes Your Enemy

It all started with the politicization of the news media. Fox News and other right wing outlets sprang to life on the contention that the mainstream media operated with a liberal bias that needed to be balanced with a conservative bias. That created this notion that things formerly accepted as “facts” had a political bias. All disagreements were cast as “he said/she said” that formed the basis of both-sider-ism. It was only a matter of time before things like science and basic math became politicized. Under those circumstances, there is no common ground in the epistemically closed bubble. Your opponent becomes objectified as the “other side” and quickly turns into the enemy that must be defeated all costs.

That is now the mindset we’re seeing when it comes to the current situation with the FBI. Those on the right will tell you that the process of investigating Hillary Clinton was politicized by the leadership at DOJ (i.e., AG Loretta Lynch) while the left shouts the same thing about FBI Director James Comey. It is literally a “he said/she said,” and simply yelling louder that your side is right doesn’t change that. It just deepens the polarization. But it’s one thing when politicians are cast in that light. It’s a whole other level of dysfunction when the very institutions we rely on to carry out justice are painted with the same brush.

That is why one of the norms we’ve expected from our government over the years is that federal bureaucracies are staffed with career civil servants who continue in their positions from one administration to another regardless of which party wins the presidency. We need to trust these people to do their jobs regardless of the politics involved. It appears that, based on what we’ve learned recently about the investigations of Hillary Clinton, that is another norm that has been breeched within the FBI. Without uncovering any evidence of wrongdoing, there are agents that continue to insist otherwise. It is difficult to imagine a motive other than politicization within the ranks for why that is happening.

But the truth is, based on how our politics are going these days, it is almost impossible to avoid getting caught up in the battle that is currently underway. Republicans have abandoned the idea of disagreeing over policy issues and replaced it with the idea that political opponents are the “enemy” that threatens us. So…rather than a disagreement over health care reform, we hear accusations that President Obama isn’t an American citizen and doesn’t really love our country. Hillary Clinton doesn’t simply have a different view over how to grow our economy, she is a crook and needs to be locked up.

For almost eight years President Obama has been trying to make the case to Republicans that this was the wrong approach. I’ll simply provide you with one example from his 2015 State of the Union speech where he talked about “a better politics.”

So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America’s hopes…

Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different. Understand, a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine. A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives…

If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments, but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.

The trouble is…changing that is a two-way street and – at least so far – Republicans are broadcasting that they’re going to double down on their approach when the target turns from Obama to Clinton. In other words, if they lose the White House again, the plan is to continue their rejection of actual governing in order to make sure that all of this turns into a lose/lose for the rest of us. That approach is affecting us all…including agents at the FBI apparently.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.