Politics, by nature, is divisive. It’s driven by what we believe in and the values we hold onto. However, it doesn’t have to be such a fight. Not every political meme posted to your Facebook wall has to become a comment-section battleground, nor do you have to unfriend anyone who you disagree with. This country was built upon the idea of compromise and open debate.

In the past few decades, American politics has begun to look more and more like a team sport. You’re either a Republican or a Democrat, there is no well accepted middle. This is partially due to the fact that 3rd parties are often looked upon as a joke and are usually poorly run; they just can’t compete with the two mega-factions. But its also due to the divisive rhetoric used by both parties that force us to fall into line with them and their platforms, lest the victory go to the “other”.

This divide was further emphasized by the 2016 election. I’m certain you’re well aware of the colorful variety of insults that you could be called for supporting a candidate. Having mixed opinions about either or both bought you the wrath of both sides. The two candidates, who to put it lightly were unpopular, fought not to win support by talking about their vision for the country and focusing on policy. Rather, they thought the best way to win was to destroy their opponent, and to make them appear the greater of two evils. Political demonization and fear politics are no new thing, but an entire election revolving around it is. And it’s something that has to stop.  

So we’ve been dragged apart by fear and anger, what can we do? Well let’s start by realizing who is at fault for it: the political parties. This doesn’t mean we should discard the notion of parties, they are useful tools in a republic with a variety of benefits. We should recognize and hold them by their true purpose: political parties simply serve as a vehicle to advance for our beliefs, and we aren’t bound to them. 

Stop feeling as if you are backed into a wall politically if you don’t agree with some of the platforms your party stands on. No Democrat, Republican, or anyone else has the right to dictate to you the ideas you must fall in line with. The big brother of the cherished freedom of speech is the natural freedom of thought.

If you don’t agree with some of your party’s platform, don’t feel bad about it. Just because you don’t fully support something your side does doesn’t mean you’re aiding and abetting the “enemy”. The parties aren’t competing to make themselves the best, they are competing to make America the best. Instead of finding a political party you like and falling into groupthink with them, find ideas and values that you identify with, and pursue the course of action to bring those ideas and values to the rest of the nation. So what if your beliefs don’t align with any major party or candidate? Do what President Obama said in his farewell address: “If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing … grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself”. And if your values happen to fall in line perfectly with the party platforms of some of the major factions, don’t feel any remorse in being a committed member. 

We aren’t a nation of two political parties, we are a nation of values. The values we hold as Americans set us apart from the rest of the world, and it has allowed us to succeed at almost anything we put our minds to. When we unshackle ourselves from blind partisanship and work together, nothing can stop us. We should take heed the words of President John F Kennedy, when he said “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”