Truth Over Tribalism

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Over Spring break, when my family and I were delightfully snowed-in in Estes Park, we played a lot of board games. During one of them, we were each tasked with coming up with a pet peeve. I dare say that us writers have an advantage in this area, because we tend to have a whole lot of them.

Some are related to the general mechanics of writing, others have to do with life interrupting our focus on the craft, and some involve the reception our writing is met with.

A few years ago, I had fun sharing some of the more amusing reviews I’ve received over the years for my Sean Coleman Thrillers. The piece included a few of my pet peeves in the arena of fiction, but, as some of you know (and is often mentioned in this newsletter), I also write political commentary. And, just between you and me, that’s the genre where most of my writing grievances exist.

Here’s the problem: When I write about politics, I tell the truth. I also try hard, despite my political inclinations, to be fair in my opinions. And in our country’s nasty political landscape, that type of thing offends a lot of people.

I’m mostly referring to partisans — emotionally-invested, often unconditional supporters of a politician, political group, or political party. These folks tend to hold the other side to much different standards than they hold their own, which of course breeds a good amount of hypocrisy. And when I point out that hypocrisy in my writing, or simply hold both sides to the same set of standards, it doesn’t always go over well with readers.

Part of the issue is that honest and fair political commentary is growing closer to extinction every day.

As I wrote a while back:

These days, a lot of people get their national news from either 24-hour cable-news networks or the Internet, in part because those platforms are always available. A big problem with both, however (that I think more and more people have come to realize over time), is that they largely follow a business or entertainment model, rather than a journalistic model.

In other words, most such outlets are dispensing news and opinion in a way that appeals to the biases and preconceptions of a certain type of news consumer, rather than from a position of good faith and earnestness.

The reasons for this, as I wrote in another piece, are money, fame, and job security. There’s an enormous, lucrative market for telling political-addicts exactly what they want to hear: that their side is good (and fighting for justice), and that the other side is evil (and must be destroyed if the nation is to survive). Lots of media-entities are further embracing that formula all the time. The broader narrative, shaped and enforced every day by politicians and media-figures who don’t actually believe most of what they say, is that we are at war. Thus, any fact, principle, or standard that runs counter to the “good side” winning (whatever “winning” means) is effectively a capitulation to the “bad side.”

… Which brings me back to the topic of pet peeves. One of my biggest ones, as a political writer, is when I write something that is objectively and demonstrably true, and someone responds to it with one of these imaginative quips:

You’re mindlessly parroting what [the other side] is saying.

What you’re saying gives aid and comfort to [the other side].

Looks like you’ve been getting your news from [the other side’s cable-news network].

That’s what I’d expect from someone who votes for [the other party, or the other party’s leader].

Stuff like this irritates me, not because it’s inaccurate (which it is) or that it says something negative about me, my positions, or my writing (it doesn’t). I mean, if someone speaking the factual, unvarnished truth about a topic offends your political sensibilities, and bolsters the position of your political opponents, it ain’t the truth-teller’s fault. The person you should be blaming, for having a flawed position, is yourself.

No, what irritates and disheartens me is how politics and political tribalism have broken so many people to the point that they reflexively subscribe to such “you’re either with me or against me” nonsense.

It’s gotten bad. Really bad. For example, I can’t even cite the dictionary definition of a word, or share economic statistics, without some boneheaded partisan claiming I’ve joined the dark side. Pretty soon, they’ll be demanding that I don’t write “The sun is hot,” out of concern that it might somehow hurt them (or help their opponents) politically.

It’s all so profoundly stupid, but that’s where we’re at right now in American politics. So, I suppose this is a good opportunity to thank those of you who do read my political writing with an open mind, and perhaps even find value in it. I can promise you that I’ll never let partisan considerations dictate my views on the political and cultural matters I write about.

As one my heroes, Charles Krauthammer, once said, “You’re betraying your whole life if you don’t say what you think and you don’t say it honestly and bluntly.”

Some things in life may be worth such a betrayal, but politics — especially today’s politics — are by no means among them.


What’s your pet peeve? Tell me in an email or in the comment section below.

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Random Thought

Obligatory Dog Shot

Uncle Rusty came over for a slumber party.

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