This is not to say there is a lack of patriotism in the United Kingdom; British people can be some of the most patriotic in the world. Rather, it may, at least in part, be attributed to Britain’s political culture and how citizens relate to authority in the country. The British tend to shy away from intense political involvement and ideological partisanship is only seen in subtle doses. A long history of political stability enables such a trust in government to be built.
When I arrived in the United States a few years ago, I noticed something very different. Americans, in general, are very political. This is not a major surprise for a nation established on the foundation of political freedom, with a system that encourages political accountability, and with government prominent even down to the local level.
What has perhaps been surprising, however, is the vehemence with which people in America tend to align with a particular ideology. My U.S. history is not what it should be, but I’m inclined to believe that the recent levels of partisan discord are not characteristic of America’s past. Rather, there appears to be a trend toward ideological alignment that has caused much division within the nation in recent years. It seems there is more animosity within society and less serious conversation about how to best realize the objectives of the founding fathers.
All too often we get lazy when forming opinions about events and issues in this country, and rather than objectively assess a situation based on its individual merit, we hide behind ideology for fear of deserting our peers or party. It is not wrong to have beliefs, nor to abide by creeds, codes or personal values. But this should not be done at the expense of being informed and thoughtful, while seeking to avoid excessive bias in the formation of your opinions. Believe it or not, neither the Republicans nor Democrats have all the answers.
The point at which my opinion of a particular issue or event is informed by ideological bias rather than factual consideration is a sad departure from my humanity and my responsibility to democracy. For example, I may be an avid supporter of the Second Amendment, but does that mean I should not encourage a conversation about the safe use of firearms and potential regulations that could prevent countless unnecessary deaths? Or should I immediately assume any such suggestion is an affront to my freedom and part of a socialist government agenda? If I support a woman’s right to choose, does that mean any restriction placed on abortion is automatically something I should oppose?
We can’t escape ideology. All of us have a personal ideology that has been formed from experience and various influences, and that framework will inevitably inform our opinions over issues to at least some extent. But that does not let us off the hook. An ideology is a living entity, something that is never truly complete as we continue to learn and experience this world. No one has all the answers, and I am wary of any person who gives such an impression.
This great nation can boast many things, but perhaps what it lacks is adequate conversation. Ideas and terms have become so set in stone that we have lost the ability to challenge their meanings. For example, what do I mean when I say I am staunchly pro-life? Does that simply mean I consider abortion to be wrong, or should I go further and allow my opinion of the sanctity of life to inform my views on the death penalty, war and poverty? American ideology has come to suggest the former is adequate while the latter blurs the political lines too much.
Clearly, we will not learn this lesson from Congress, which has become so paralyzed by puerile partisanship that the legislative process is gridlocked and we, the citizens (and legal aliens), pay the penalty. Rather, perhaps they need to learn from us: that partisan labels and political ideologies should not be a shield that protects us from serious, intellectual consideration of social issues, but rather that we have a responsibility to dutifully seek what is true and right, regardless of what the media, our peers or the political spin doctors tell us.