After Ferguson, and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, many Americans asked tough and probing questions about policing in black communities. But now our debates are about Colin Kaepernick, the national anthem, and Confederate statues. However you feel about any of these issues, please note that all of them are purely symbolic, and that none of them directly affect policing, or criminal justice, or discrimination, or racial wealth disparities.

If you have a system where the parties are wired to stoke racial division and hatred (and the media to magnify it), the worst thing you could do is address any real issues, because then people might have to talk about the tradeoffs that any particular policy might involve, and people might start to have ideas for compromises. The temperature might cool, even a little bit. If the issues are symbolic, however, all that’s left is for Team A to remind itself of how virtuous it is and how hateful everyone is on Team B. It’s the system, man.