By: Luis Enrique Miranda, A guest editorial
A wedge issue is defined as an issue that drives a literal wedge into a political base, dividing its members. Oftentimes they are social in nature and are used to bring polarized members of a base over to a rival party.
Republicans often operate using wedge issues, usually opting for a callous abuse of religious and social differences in their messaging. Right wing politicians manipulate topics that are emotionally attached to their constituents’ Christian identity, to drive them to hate their different neighbors. Abortion and marriage equality have been the most recognizable wedge issues over the past 30 years.
More recently a moral wedge has been carved out over trans people’s right to exist in public spaces, in a wave of extreme transphobia that has been gaining traction with alarming speed. These social wedges are primarily used to freeze out discussion on issues that threaten establishment politics.
These issues generate a circular discussion that derails or prevents other issues from being brought up and steers the conversation towards unproductive ends. After all, it is almost impossible to find other common ground with a staunch Christian when their main concern is that Democrats are baby-murdering fanatics who are destroying the Christian nuclear family via the Gay Agenda.
It doesn’t matter that making abortion illegal is unconstitutional, or that Republicans have done nothing substantial to ban it despite controlling all three branches of power in the federal government in the recent past. All that matters is that their base stays emotionally distressed enough over the issue to keep voting Republican.
There is often little interest in resolving these issues, since they activate the base on an emotional level. It is easier to feed talking points and excuses to voters when they believe they are engaged in a broad, vague war of ideas, concepts and culture. The actual details of governance become a bore and take a step back to the epic fantasies of war against evil.
Wedge issues were the basis of Republican candidate Irene Armendariz-Jackson’s failed campaign to unseat Representative Veronica Escobar. She used our overwhelmingly Catholic culture to heavily emphasize the issue of abortion to polarize Christian Democrats enough to vote against their party.
In the news, Armendariz-Jackson often emphasized a difference of values between Democratic leadership and the citizenry. This is an example of how this dirty political trick gets used to disrupt local politics. Her transparent attempt to manipulate El Pasoans’ faith in order to polarize them into extremist, Q-Anon drenched politics thankfully failed, but we must remain aware and vigilant.
Political operatives with well-designed social engineering campaigns are not the only ones who abuse wedge issues. In fact, a guest writer for El Paso Matters recently attempted to fabricate a discussion that intentionally would polarize people over a clear-cut issue in the name of public discourse.
The wedge in this case was whether prisoners have human rights. You may notice a similarity between this and the way that Republicans question the rights of women and queer people through their superficially moral attacks on abortion and marriage equality.
Let’s assume Ryan James Solis was arguing in good faith, even though he frames it as a hard question and then chooses a side rather easily. His article then makes the reader wonder why the ambiguity was there at all. Is it perhaps the social pressure of his peers or his society that made him question something that he already knows the answer to?
This example serves as a teaching moment. We often frame issues based entirely on our own moral biases, or because we have seen others voice an extreme opinion and we erroneously think that displaying both extremes is somehow fair and balanced.
It is not, it just legitimizes the worst tendencies amongst us by presenting these dehumanizing opinions side-by-side with more reasonable ones. It normalizes them.
Instead, we should make clear and bold declarations of what we believe. We must also make clear denouncements of dangerous ideologies, lest we continue to platform and give social capital to dangerous extremists like Rush Limbaugh. After all, these wedge issues thrive best in the face of indecisiveness.
In this case, the clear stance is that incarcerated people should receive vaccines. As a vulnerable group, they should be vaccinated with other frontline workers – especially since they were recently tapped in to carry our dead at unconscionably reduced wages. (This is also a good time to remind everyone our prison system charges them astronomical prices for every phone call they make.)
Anything short of making this clear invites ambiguity and dehumanization. It invites the reader to think it is acceptable to devalue and cast aside these members of our community. Permitting or encouraging ambiguity of moral values does the opposite of generating valuable discussion. As a source of news and opinions for the public, editing rooms are way past due to do better.
About the Author: Luis Enrique Miranda is a freelance journalist, translator and fixer who grew up in Juárez and El Paso. His work focuses on immigration and politics in the borderland.
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