Ryan J. Rusak

Our obsession with national politics is toxic, so let’s focus locally instead

I have a favor to ask of you.

But first, I need to explain where I’m coming from.

A couple of years ago, I was done with national politics. I was burned out on the vitriol and the sneering vilification brought on by disagreement.

I wanted no part of the ugliness emanating from the new president or those who opposed him. I told friends: “I don’t like Trump, I don’t like people who hate Trump, and I don’t like people who hate people who hate Trump.”

That was obviously a silly way to put it. But the feeling was pretty unexpected. From age 17, I was a political junkie. I could name all the presidents in order. And as a journalist, I marinated in politics for more than a decade.

If I could get turned off of it, I could only imagine what average voters were feeling.

My interest has rebounded, though I still tire quickly of the outrage culture. I don’t watch cable news. I do enjoy Twitter, but even there, the dumb gotcha games and political preening have me clicking over pretty quickly to dog pictures, Words With Friends or baseball scores.

In the digital age, I’m sure I’m not alone.

We’re not meant to absorb and react to every bit of national political news. We’re not built to think constantly about leaders several layers removed from us. And certainly, the president — any president — shouldn’t be a major factor in your day-to-day happiness.

Now, that doesn’t mean we should be bad citizens. We should follow the news, fight for what we believe in and cast informed votes every chance we get.

But I’ve come to believe that being so plugged into national politics, with our smartphones dispensing regular doses of anger and fear, clouds our minds and spirits. Arguing with strangers about something you can barely influence, let alone control, is a recipe for bitterness, if not madness.

The devices aren’t going away. And clearly, most of us have found enough to love in social media that we’ll put up with eye-rolling political posts.

So, what are we to do?

The best answer I’ve found is to look local. To paraphrase one of my favorite pundits, Jonah Goldberg, we all have to figure out how to live together, in spite of the forces driving us apart.

The way to do that, he says, is to push as much autonomy to the local level as we can. And I agree. Instead of arguing over national-level policies that will alienate half the country, let’s focus on compromising with our neighbors — our real neighbors, not the virtual nameplates who anger us online.

Here’s where the favor comes in: As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s new opinion editor, I’d like to play a role in that effort. There are tons of topics I could focus on.

But you tell me: What local issues are you most interested in? What do you want to read more about? Who should I meet? What topics should we explore together? What problems does our community need to work on? Where can we find some common ground on which to build? I hope you’ll email or tweet at me (@rjrusak) with thoughtful suggestions.

There isn’t some magic solution to our tribal splits. We still have deep divisions over national policy to tackle — ideally at the ballot box and in Congress.

But if we all take a little heat away from that polarization and apply the energy instead to our communities, we could make real strides toward getting along. And maybe then we’ll find better solutions than sniping at each other from behind social media lines.

Ryan J. Rusak is opinion editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He grew up in Benbrook and is a TCU graduate. He spent more than 12 years as a political journalist, overseeing coverage of four presidential elections and several sessions of the Texas Legislature. He lives in east Fort Worth.