George Washington told America that political parties were our 'worst enemy.' He was right.

President George Washington warned Americans of the dangers of partisanship in his 1796 farewell address — and he didn't mince words.

The entire address is worth a read, but Washington's descriptions of "the Spirit of Party," which he said "is seen in its greatest rankness" in freely elected democracies and "is truly their worst enemy," are particularly intriguing.

Check out a bit of what he said about partisanship:


It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

Umm, prophetic much?

Of course, when Washington wrote those words, the parties we now see dominating American politics didn't exist. The "Spirit of Party" was burgeoning, however, and it doesn't take a political genius to see that the partisan divide we're currently experiencing was an inevitable outcome of such a spirit.

After all, partisan politics is divisive in its very nature. This is especially true in our two-party system, where supposedly opposite forces compete in a constant tug-of-war for power. In the abstract, that may seem like some form of balance, but in actuality, it's a recipe for deadlock and potential disaster:

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged . . . there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

Perhaps that's why the largest American voting block identifies as Independent.

I count myself among the 42% of U.S. voters who don't align themselves with a political party. Raised in a definitively non-partisan household, I've never felt any desire to call myself Democrat or Republican, Libertarian or Green, or any other party affiliation. In addition, I avoid arguments that center partisanship, and quickly grow weary of the childish, name-calling bickering that too often takes places between people who see themselves as mortal enemies based on red vs. blue.

However, I still get labeled with a political party almost every time I share an opinion on an issue—especially online—despite never stating any party preference. It's virtually impossible to discuss any political or social issue these days without someone assigning you to a party, and then assuming you support the party's platform and ideology whole cloth.

Our brains naturally categorize things, and the prevalence of partisanship leads people to automatically sort individuals into one of two distinct camps. Far too many people don't seem to grasp that it's possible to engage in social and political discourse without being entrenched in "the spirit of party."

People's beliefs and views don't fall neatly into two categories, so let's stop behaving as if they do.

When we step back and think about the depth and diversity of human thought, it's immediately clear that each of us has a unique combination of beliefs and experiences. That makes sorting millions of Americans into two political categories absurd.

And yet, that's what people do all the time when they assign labels like liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican, blue/red, and left/right to people based on one expressed opinion. They do it without thinking. They do it without investigating. And they do it with deeply ingrained prejudices and assumptions that are not only unfair, but dangerous, as they lead to factionalism and blind loyalty.

Many people decry blind loyalty to party, but don't recognize it in themselves.

The view from top of the political fence is interesting. From what I can see, the problem with partisan politics isn't the partisans who take it to the extreme; it's the nature of the beast itself. Each side demonizes the other so viciously that when one heads down the path of partisan thinking, aligning with one side seems the only truly virtuous thing to do.

If your first response to that statement is, "But the [fill in opposing party] truly IS evil! Someone has to stop them!" take a step back. Folks on the other side are saying exactly the same thing about you, and they believe it just as strongly, for reasons they feel are just as legitimate. That kind of us vs. them thinking can easily lead to a righteous sense of party loyalty, which can easily lead to putting party before country.

Washington saw this coming when he expressed concern that political parties could result in loyalty to one's party overriding one's loyalty to the nation and to the common good. He also pointed out the corruptive influence they can have:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

We would be wise to heed Washington's warnings, on an individual level if not on a national one. Obviously, America's two-party system isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but it's only fueled by our participation. Let's discuss the issues, but ditch the partisanship. If we continue to cling to divisive modes of governing, we'll never find the unity we so desperately need.

Courtesy of FIELDTRIP
True

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected diverse communities due largely in part to social factors such as inadequate access to housing, income, dietary options, education and employment — all of which have been shown to affect people's physical health.

Recognizing that inequity, Harlem-based chef JJ Johnson sought out to help his community maximize its health during the pandemic — one grain at a time.

Johnson manages FIELDTRIP, a health-focused restaurant that strives to bring people together through the celebration of rice, a grain found in cuisines of countless cultures.

"It was very important for me to show the world that places like Harlem want access to more health-conscious foods," Johnson said. "The people who live in Harlem should have the option to eat fresh, locally farmed and delicious food that other communities have access to."

Lack of education and access to those healthy food options is a primary driver of why 31% of adults in Harlem are struggling with obesity — the highest rate of any neighborhood in New York City and 7% higher than the average adult obesity rate across the five boroughs.

Obesity increases risk for heart disease or diabetes, which in turn leaves Harlem's residents — who are 76% Black or LatinX — at heightened risk for complications with COVID-19.

Keep Reading Show less

Empathy. Compassion. Heart-to-heart human connection. These qualities of leadership may not be flashy or loud, but they speak volumes when we see them in action.

A clip of Joe Biden is going viral because it reminds us what that kind of leadership looks like. The video shows a key moment at a memorial service for Chris Hixon, the athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018. Hixon had attempted to disarm the gunman who went on a shooting spree at the school, killing 17 people—including Hixon—and injuring 17 more.

Biden asked who Hixon's parents were as the clip begins, and is directed to his right. Hixon's wife introduces herself, and Biden says, "God love you." As he starts to walk away, a voice off-camera says something and Biden immediately turns around. The voice came from Hixon's son, Corey, and the moments that followed are what have people feeling all their feelings.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less
via Witty Buttons / Twitter

Back in 2017, when white supremacist Richard Spencer was socked in the face by someone wearing all black at Trump's inauguration, it launched an online debate, "Is it OK to punch a Nazi?"

The essential nature of the debate was whether it was acceptable for people to act violently towards someone with repugnant reviews, even if they were being peaceful. Some suggested people should confront them peacefully by engaging in a debate or at least make them feel uncomfortable being Nazi in public.

Keep Reading Show less

The English language is constantly evolving, and the faster the world changes, the faster our vocabulary changes. Some of us grew up in an age when a "wireless router" would have been assumed to be a power tool, not a way to get your laptop (which wasn't a thing when I was a kid) connected to the internet (which also wasn't a thing when I was a kid, at least not in people's homes).

It's interesting to step back and look at how much has changed just in our own lifetimes, which is why Merriam-Webster's Time Traveler tool is so fun to play with. All you do is choose a year, and it tells you what words first appeared in print that year.

For my birth year, the words "adult-onset diabetes," "playdate," and "ATM" showed up in print for the first time, and yes, that makes me feel ridiculously old.

It's also fun to plug in the years of different people's births to see how their generational differences might impact their perspectives. For example, let's take the birth years of the oldest and youngest members of Congress:

Keep Reading Show less