We have entered an age of polarization in our political discourse that our nation hasn’t seen, I believe, since the Civil War. Instead of addressing arguments we attack the person. In logic this is known as an ad hominem fallacy and it has become the fallacy of choice in recent years. Little do we know that this split is being exploited and expanded by Russia in an effort to weaken us and change the world political landscape.

Case in point: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently rolled back the Obama-era federal guidelines for sexual assault on campuses under the Title IX program. The backlash was swift and, quite often, filled with personal attacks on the secretary, but there is more to the story.

The Washington Post published her department’s entire letter on line allowing readers to judge for themselves, so I read it and then I read more analysis about it. Although I may not agree with her conclusions entirely, I don’t think her arguments can be dismissed so easily. She expressed her concern over some people being falsely accused by the use of “a preponderance of evidence,” the Obama-era standard, as opposed to “clear and convincing evidence.” Her letter expresses this concern as well as others, all of which need to be addressed.

When reading articles and opinions from those opposed to the move, I didn’t see balanced arguments against her actions. For the most part, I saw the questioning of her character and her ability to lead the department. This does nothing to address the issue or find common ground from which a sensible policy can be achieved.

Despite the complexities, our national dialogue now does not allow for critical thinking. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, we instantly jump on our opposition and begin vilifying them without even trying to understand what they are saying. It was the words of President Trump that started the latest row.

The President criticized football players who opt to take a knee during the national anthem. Last week, as a show of unity, teams decided to protest this criticism and support the right to free speech. The outrage was instantaneous.

No one asked why they were taking a knee (or in the case of the Steelers, stay in the tunnel). The assumption was that they and the league hated this country.

Protests broke out, boycotts began, and jerseys were burned. One Pennsylvania fire chief was forced to resign when he posted a racial slur against head coach Mike Tomlin on Facebook in reaction to Sunday’s events. Attack the person, not the arguments. Ad hominem in action.

You cannot reduce complicated issues to a Tweet. This is not as simple as the President made it out to be. This involves the difficult issues of race relations, inequality and police overreach. I believe those protesting are no less patriotic than those who didn’t.

The right to protest is as American as football. I am a veteran; I didn’t serve to force people to be patriotic. I served to make sure they had the freedom to do what makes this nation great – question the majority, fight injustice, and demand change.

The football players had every right to do what they did, just as those who disagreed with them had had every right to voice their opinion. But to radicalize patriotism, to attack the coaches and players personally is not just a logical fallacy – it is dangerous.

What is happening with the political conversation in our country has created an “us versus them” attitude and made it more difficult to compromise and get anything done, and that is exactly what our enemies want.

Facebook recently admitted that a Russian-based company bought $100,000 worth of divisive advertisements through May of last year. Russian operatives have used Twitter and Reddit for the same purposes – to fan the flames of controversial issues in an effort to polarize our nation and weaken our influence in the world. There is evidence they were at work over the weekend using both the hashtags “takeaknee” and “boycottNFL.” The more we fought and called each other names, the more we played into Putin’s hands.

Anyone who has studied history knows that polarization leads to violence. We’ve already seen that on several occasions. If we continue on this course, the foundations of our democracy will weaken, which is exactly what Russia wants.

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