In Paris to mark the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I this past Saturday, President Trump was, by his standards, in a pensive mood. “Is there anything better to celebrate,” he tweeted, “than the end of a war, in particular that one, which was one of the bloodiest and worst of all time?”
I read the post and thought little of it, aside from noting its relative propriety. From an account that dabbles in “horseface” and “Rocket Man,” enthusiasm for peace, even awkwardly phrased, is a welcome change. But my response was apparently not universal. The benign tweet was soon ginning up controversy, with Twitter raging into debate over whether “celebrate” should have been replaced with the more solemn “commemorate.” Days later, the argument appears to have life in it yet.
This is an acutely stupid feud. “Commemorate” may have been better, sure, but it is entirely good and right to celebrate the end of a war! They certainly celebrated in 1918. There are reasons abundant to be angry at the president, but his word choice here isn’t one of them. Why are we fighting about it?
Perhaps it is because we are addicted to fighting, and any excuse will do. I recently learned of a German word, streitsüchtig, which is typically translated “quarrelsome.” But its literal meaning is dispute-addicted. It describes not just a tendency toward conflict but a certain hunger for it — a need for discord or yearning for something to oppose.
Streitsüchtig describes our politics perfectly. We are addicted to conflict, and it’s only getting worse. The addiction is not endemic to any one spot on the political spectrum, nor is it confined to unreasonable reactions to Trump’s more reasonable moments. And as long as it remains, I struggle to see a scenario in which we return to any semblance of the political normalcy many say they desire.
What makes our streitsüchtig state so insidious is it really does have biological similarities to addiction. When politics gets a rise out of us, it triggers the same fight or flight response real danger can engender. Our bodies experience the same heightened levels of the hormone cortisol. And when we feel we’ve won an argument, our brain self-rewards with more hormones, adrenaline, and dopamine. They create “a feeling any of us would want to replicate,” writes Judith E. Glaser at Harvard …read more