American Politics Requires a Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone gave us insight

According to Wikipedia, the Rosetta Stone:

… is a granodiorite stele inscribed with three versions of a decree issued in Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes. The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphic and Demotic scripts respectively, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek. … The Rosetta Stone is no longer unique, but it was the essential key to the modern understanding of ancient Egyptian literature and civilization. The term Rosetta Stone is now used to refer to the essential clue to a new field of knowledge.

102620 Rosetta Stone

Imagine the value of this stone, a key of sorts, that helped decipher the meaning of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic scripts, and compared those written languages to Greek (and each to the others). The history and legends that were kept preserved in the pyramids could suddenly be made clear and understood.

Politics highlight our differences

Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan, Stony Brook University political science instructors, reported in The New York Times about The Real Divide in America is Between Political Junkies and Everyone Else. Their observations included:

  • … most Americans — upward of 80 percent to 85 percent — follow politics casually or not at all. Just 15 percent to 20 percent follow it closely.
  • … we found that Americans fall much less neatly into partisan camps.
  • Partisan Republicans were most likely to say drug abuse was the most important problem facing the country. But less-attentive Republicans ranked it second to last, and they were also concerned about the deficit and divisions between Democrats and Republicans.
  • Among Democrats, the political junkies think the influence of wealthy donors and interest groups [are] urgent problems. But less-attentive Democrats are 25 percentage points more likely to name moral decline as an important problem facing the country — a problem partisan Democrats never even mention.

Our differences stem from different political languages

Those of us who are paying attention to politics (the 15% to 20% noted above) are in constant disagreement. There is a lot of concern (hand-wringing, actually) over the left and right political mavens not seeing eye-to-eye.

Even to the casual political observer, we are currently experiencing the conflicts from three, rather than two, major political forces: Democrats, Republicans, and Trump Supporters. These are distinct political blocs currently vying for our votes. As such they form three languages, much like the three languages found on the Rosetta Stone: Hieroglyphics, Demotic Script, and Greek.

Similar to those ancient times, we may be witnessing political contentions because of our use of different languages. I’m not referring to actual language (i.e., English, French, German, etc.). Rather, the definitions of our words and their definitions do not match what others think they do. Consider, for example, what you might think of when discussing these terms while discussing politics:

  • Conservatism and Liberalism
  • Socialism and Capitalism
  • Representative Democracy
  • Constitutional Republic

We can easily differ with each other over these terms but as our definitions influence our values, the gap in our discussions widen. Soon, we stop listening to each other either scream or go silent.

The discussions become more divided, again because the terms themselves don’t mean the same to all of us. Let’s widen the gap more with these terms:

  • Safety and Security
  • Law and Order
  • Abortion and Pro Choice
  • Gun Control
  • Climate Change
  • Immigration and Border Control
  • Social Justice
  • Fiscal Responsibility
  • Economic Disparity
  • Racism
  • Religious Freedom

Yikes! Our language skills may fail us more as we defend our positions, stop listening, and fail to recognize we’re not speaking the same language!

We need a political Rosetta Stone!

A political Rosetta Stone might help all of us

As we come together to pick a president or senator or representative, we lean towards the candidate who speaks our language. We prefer the candidate who reflects the character we respect and want to follow. We choose the candidate who prioritizes values in the same order as we do, affixing meaning to those words just as we would.

Regardless of who wins the presidency, our nation will remain sorely divided. It is not up to the president to close the nation’s divide – the gaps between us. We as a people need to set aside our partisanship tendencies so we can listen to each other and decipher what the concerns might truly be.

Rather like a lesson we can take away from the Rosetta Stone, our understanding of each other can be improved if we use a common language. We need to hear one another. We must translate the meanings of our words to comprehend what the other is saying. We need to listen to the messages – the hopes and fears and joys and disappointments – each of us carry within us.

As Krupnikov and Ryan pointed out, Americans do not fall neatly into partisan camps. That’s significant. Still, we are all much more the same than we are different. We need to recognize and highlight and respect our commonalities. We cannot afford to let the diverse political languages tear us apart.

I suspect most of you have voted. If not, do so ASAP. It’s important to identify the sentiment of the governed at the ballot box. It’s fundamental to our democracy. It is also fundamental that we learn to get along afterwards. The days and weeks ahead will be turbulent but the rancor will not be resolved by violence and destruction. Whatever your personal political Rosetta Stone might be, refer to it often and let’s be kind to each other.

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By Jerry Spriggs and the Equal Voice Voting Team

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