Having spent several days coming to terms with the results of the US presidential election, I think I’ve gained a better grasp on the philosophy of political radicalism and partisan loyalty.

It started when things started looking dim for Kerry in the early hours of the morning here in Berlin. Around 6 AM, I began toying with visions of the unthinkable, of becoming one of those neo-dissident, think-not-with-your-brain-but-with-the-chip-on-the-shoulder leftists destined to spend their political lives preaching to the choir. I say unthinkable because I consider myself a moderate; I belong to neither political party, I make my decisions on the basis of the issues at hand, rather than on partisan loyalty, etc—you know my type. When push came to shove, though, and I started getting desperate, I began to understand those encamped further—and more unconditionally—towards the fringes of the political spectrum.

So here’s my theory: you start thinking (or acting) radically and strictly along party lines when you perceive that your way of life—and, by extension, the way of life you believe to be right and just—is threatened by the government to which you owe your passport.

Here’s how I came to this conclusion. Like Stephanie, I’ve experienced a surge of interest in domestic politics since the recent election, a concern that I’ve never felt before. Having reflected on why this is the case, I’ve come to this conclusion: before this election, I never felt like there was anything MAJOR to worry about in domestic politics. Somehow—though I appreciated the importance of domestic politics, I figured there were plenty of people to fight on that front; while those fighting on the international side were far fewer…

In fact, it was due to my work on the international front—experience with organizations whose mission it is to aid democracy and its advocates abroad—that I recognized the reason I always saw domestic politics as secondary to international issues. Working in democracy promotion, I’ve seen firsthand how people’s lives have been twisted, changed, broken and even ended by politics. This is a fate, I thought, that does not affect Americans; this is our ultimate privilege as American citizens. In other words; the right inexorably tied to freedom—that quality that is so often extolled by the current administration as America’s chief virtue and defining characteristic—is a negative right: living in a “free country” gives us the right not to have one’s life adversely affected by the government we live under.

In other words, my perception before this election was that we have been freed by virtue of our democratic government from the need to hold domestic politics as an existential concern, given the luxury of being ignorant.

I was wrong; and this election has revealed why.

The rank division of our “two Americas” has revealed definitively that our own democracy is not going to work if we—along with millions of other Americans—assume it will keep chugging away and making acceptable decisions if we just leave well enough alone and focus on things that interest us more; things in which our is purely academic, insofar they have little to do my own daily survival.

In fact, the mechanisms of our own democratic consensus started creaking far before the elections. However, despite the growing academic discourse (see, for example http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=2313020) focused around the fact that our “two Americas” understand little of and sympathize less with each other’s views, it seems that most Americans go on with their daily lives ignorant that a misunderstanding even exists.

This ignorance ended on Election Day, when each America was confronted with the reality of the other. For those who voted for Kerry, the painful reality revealed was that that the “other” America has the power to determine kind of country that “their” America will live in.

For this reason result of the red/blue division in America today is that each “side” is likely to feel that the U.S. democracy has turned to dictatorship at every election in which their candidate is not voted into office. And why? Because the “losers” of the election neither understand nor empathize the lifestyle and beliefs of the “winners.” And thus it comes to be; the dread and loathing—e.g., post-electoral depression—that we, as this election’s losers, are feeling right now. In a country this sharply divided, whoever loses also commences to be governed by an administration they see as foreign, opposed to everything they stand for. In other words, 49% of Americans are now feeling like strangers in their own land.

That, my friends, is the viscious cycle that will breed radicalism among otherwise-reasonable people, dividing our country beyond recognition… We’re got to take some big steps to understand each other’s convictions now, before our country is polarized beyond recognition or reconciliation.

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