Jacob Hibbard: We must stop ‘othering’ each other and instead see fellow Americans

Trying to abandon the friend-enemy distinction has truly enriched my life.

(Associated Press) This images shows a depiction of Abraham Lincoln taking the oath of office as the 16th president of the United States administered by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on March 4, 1861.

America has taken a “Schmittian” turn, and that is a threat to the survival of our constitutional republic.

Carl Schmitt was a German jurist and political theorist in the 20th century and the de facto philosopher of the Nazi movement. One of Schmitt’s key ideas was what is called the friend-enemy distinction. In his 1927 work “The Concept of the Political,” Schmitt states: “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy.”

For Schmitt, to engage in politics is to engage in the act of distinguishing friends and enemies.

American political rhetoric on both sides has embraced this friend-enemy distinction. We engage in rhetorical warfare with one another, thoughtlessly deploying labels such as bigot, racist, globalist, groomer, homophobe, transphobe, fascist, communist and so on.

Our political leaders label groups of fellow Americans as “bitter clingers,” “deplorables,” “treasonous,” “sick people” and “un-American.”

American politics has taken a “Schmittian” turn. But there is a way back.

It begins with abandoning the friend-enemy distinction. We must stop “othering” each other and instead see fellow Americans. If we do, the results will be extraordinary.

I have experienced this for myself. I consider myself a constitutional conservative, passionate about individual liberties, limited constitutional government, free speech and free markets.

When I was in my undergraduate at BYU, I was fairly new to politics and was almost religious in my zeal for these values. I wanted others to share them and to see them advanced. As a result, I was very aggressive in my rhetoric, especially about elected officials within my own party that I felt were not living up to these values. I had no qualms about deploying rhetorical weapons of mass destruction. And I was good at it.

But something changed for me in 2018.

In a special election, Rep. John Curtis was elected to the third congressional district. I saw him as a RINO, a wolf in sheep’s clothing who would certainly not forward my values. I was blistering in my criticism of Rep. Curtis.

That March, Congress voted on a new omnibus spending bill which I vehemently opposed. To my surprise, Rep. Curtis voted against it. Days later, as I walked the floor of the Utah Republican State Convention, I ran into Rep. Curtis and his wife. I introduced myself to him and thanked him for voting against the omnibus bill. He was very polite and simply thanked me. His wife, however, looked at me and said, “Thank you so much for saying that. You have no idea how hard it’s been on us this week.”

In a moment, I stopped seeing a RINO and I started seeing a person. I realized that Rep. Curtis was a person, with a family, with feelings, who was trying to do what he thought was best and felt the same pressures, pains and disappointments that I did. That moment changed my life. I realized that I could not continue treating Rep. Curtis as an enemy. He was a person. And I needed to change.

This experience did not change my political views. I did not suddenly agree with Rep. Curtis on everything, nor would I skip hand in hand with him through the marigolds. But going forward, I was going to treat him with respect and like a fellow American, regardless of our differences.

I am not going to pretend that I am perfect at this. I still struggle with the propensity to not treat others, even family members, with the respect they deserve when we disagree politically. But I try. And despite my many failings to perfectly live up to this, my life has been greatly blessed by trying. I have developed wonderful relationships with people who are very different from me politically. I have more empathy.

Trying to abandon the friend-enemy distinction has truly enriched my life.

We all need to try to be better and abandon the friend-enemy distinction in the way we think, speak, and treat one another. As President Russell M. Nelson said in April, “As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to be examples of how to interact with others — especially when we have differences of opinion.”

That does not mean that we can’t have different opinions or must abandon our beliefs. But it does mean that we try to “interact with others in a higher, holier way.”

We can be passionate about our political beliefs and advocate for the policies and ideas we believe in while being true disciples.

As President Abraham Lincoln said in his first inaugural: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

We must reject our “Schmittian” turn, give in to the “better angels of our nature” and see the angels in those around us. That is the way back. If we will try, we will fulfill President Lincoln’s hopes for his divided nation and “swell the chorus of the Union.”

(Jacob Hibbard)

Jacob Hibbard is a third-year law student at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School.