Our country has largely accepted the idea that refusing to be a shill for either side means that you’re not “loyal,” but the truth is, it really means the opposite.
During Wednesday night’s Democratic debate, Senator Kamala Harris slammed Representative Tulsi Gabbard for having criticized President Obama during his time in the White House.
“I think that it’s unfortunate that we have someone on this stage that is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, who during the Obama administration spent four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama,” Harris said.
Gabbard then interjected, calling Harris’ attack “ridiculous,” but Harris just kept going — chastising Gabbard for meeting with President Donald Trump after the 2016 election, for being too friendly with Steve Bannon “to get” that meeting, and for not labeling Bashar al-Assad a “war criminal.”
The line of attack went well for Harris. The crowd went wild — but honestly, I sat on my couch shaking my head. See, what Harris (and apparently so many others in that audience) saw as a negative, I actually see as something great. Gabbard’s willingness to criticize people in her own party if she disagrees with them is not a flaw. In fact, it’s exactly what’s missing from our discourse.
Politics has become absurdly, stupidly, restrictively partisan. Wednesday night, Harris (and the crowd’s response to her) demonstrated that this is true of Democrats — but it is, of course, absolutely true of Republicans as well. You don’t have to look too hard to find examples of that; it’s a well-known fact that President Trump tends to attack fellow Republicans if they criticize him.
I’ve also experienced this phenomenon firsthand: As a small-l libertarian (that is, someone without any party affiliation), I have been criticized on Twitter for not “picking a side.” Worse, in other cases, people will just assume that I am on a side based on a single comment I’ve made. For example: Attacking Trump on something specific will get me called some variation of a “liberal globalist socialist idiot,” and agreeing with Trump on something specific will get me called a “racist stupid Trump shill.” Being on one side or the other has become such an expectation that many people don’t even stop to consider the fact that I might be viewing each issue individually and drawing my own conclusions.
It’s sad, but it’s true: Our country has largely accepted the idea that refusing to be a shill for either side means that you’re not “loyal,” but the truth is, it really means the opposite. It means that you are being loyal to your own principles, and that is far more admirable. It takes far more courage (and time spent in thoughtful consideration) to decide your views for yourself and espouse them than it does to be a partisan-hack sheep and go along blindly with a side.
One of the main foundations of our country is supposed to be that we value individuality, and unfortunately, that seems to be getting lost. No one should ever feel compelled to replace the development of and adherence to his or her own set of personal values and beliefs with an adherence to some partisan label. It’s become far too common, and that’s detrimental to our greater good — because it causes people to stop searching for truth. Too many people don’t look at things objectively and try to see the facts; they instead look at them through their partisan lenses and try to figure out how to twist or spin them to fit their own “side.” This is dangerous for two reasons: For one, the truth is always going to be the truth, no matter who does or does not recognize it — and the best way to start finding solutions to the problems that inhibit our reality is to start by acknowledging what reality is. For another, the people who have power over us can become too powerful if they know they will have everyone on their “side” unabashedly defending any and all of their behavior, regardless of how egregious it might be. They will assume that they can get away with anything and govern us accordingly.
So, although Harris might have thought that she really owned Gabbard by hitting her on her past criticism of Obama, I couldn’t feel more strongly that the opposite is true: We need more people who are unafraid to think and speak independently, and fewer who are quick to aim to ostracize others for having had independent thoughts.