I have occasionally written on the topic of the incivility in our public discourse. It seems to me that the intolerance for other views and the demonization of those who disagree with one’s own view has escalated exponentially since the sixties when the heroes and mentors of so many of those now in positions of power were forming their own world views. That said, the incivility has, in my view, virtually exploded within the past decade and a half.
In my lifetime I have watched the evil of racism diminish as citizens of the United States push to eradicate the disease from every aspect of our lives, but in the past two years we have heard claims of racism escalate to epidemic proportions, fanned by the very people who heralded a new colorblind era in which you are judged only by your actions and accomplishments and not on your race or ethnicity. Instead we have a society where to question the intentions or actions of anyone of color or their allies is now met with a blind charge of racism. We must take care that baseless claims do not turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. Even as the purveyors of these claims spread hate and distrust among us they tell us that we cannot take a few examples of terror as an indictment of all Islam while they seize upon the worst elements of the Tea Party and of the Christians, people who claim affiliation but have no actual connection to or understanding of the groups that they would represent. We have even seen examples of progressive ideologues infiltrating the Tea Party activities and spreading the kind of hateful messages that they rail against. We should judge no group by the actions of a few individuals, but instead expose the charlatans for what they really are.
As I see it, it isn’t a question of the president’s color or national origins, it is about right and wrong. No matter what your color, you were elected to do a job for all citizens, and if you selfishly ignore the will of the people you represent, all Americans, not just those who voted for you or donated to your campaign, you are doing us all a great disservice. There is nothing racial about the opposition. It is moral. Do the right thing, and people will support you. Do your own thing, and they can’t wait to wave goodbye.
Even without the question of race, religion, and fairness, there are many intellectual chasms permeating our public lives and thus our public conversation: whether or not the stimulus is working, should we stay in Afghanistan or pull out immediately, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the military, gay marriage, bailouts, the amazing, ever-changing, increasingly aggravating Obama-care saga, and a party who possesses enough clout to push through all their expensive fantasies but still blame the neutered minority party for the dysfunctional dirty dealings that are systemic within both parties of late. If there were one republican in the senate and two in the house they still would be blamed for the inability of that body to enact even the simplest bit of prudent legislation without inundating it with enough unrelated peripheral pork-barrel detritus to derail any common sense that might be written into the legislation in the first place. Democrats have held congress for the past four years, the last two with a supermajority that all but nullifies the effect of the opposition. They have held the White House for nearly two years. I still hear that it is either President Bush’s fault, or that nothing is getting done because of those bad ol” republicans. Time to end the blame game and start enacting legislation that will benefit all American’s, not just party supporters. Time to stop the partisan bickering and realize that both sides have valid and sensible goals. If we cannot stay strong together, we cannot stay strong.
I believe that one of the largest contributors to our polarization is that unwillingness to dig beneath the surface in our research. We read publications and listen to broadcasts skewed to our preconceived notions, preempting the open-minded exploration that leads to truth. We surround ourselves with people and sources that agree with us and thus enforce not only the truths that we have to offer, but also the misinformation and misconceptions that serve to further polarize us and in the process warp the message to more of a battle cry that an intelligent discourse which seeks to unite. We have become a nation of spoiled brats fighting over our toys, only in this case the “toys” that we selfishly hoard are the foundations of our democratic republic, our open and inquisitive minds.
There was a time when the United States of America stood up to the bullies and despots of the world. There was a time when the world could depend on our great country as an example of what they could be. We stood as innovators and defenders of the those unable to defend themselves. We stood tall and proud amongst the countries of the world. Our whole country joined in the sacrifices of war because we were proud of those young men and women who were willing to go to war to not only defend our freedom but also to spread that precious freedom to people subjugated by those who would take everything for themselves.
Today, our young men and women are still volunteering to defend the things that our country once stood for. How sad that they must see their sacrifice devalued and trivialized by the anti-American attitude that has permeated our society. They fight because they love our country and because they still believe that our strength is in our defense of what is right and what is fair, but see their many victories hidden and their failures, though few, trumpeted over and over in an apparent attempt to reduce us to the level of our enemies.
Have you ever found success by pulling yourself down to the level of the lowest common denominator? I haven’t, but our administration seems to think that the way to get along in the world is to weaken ourselves to a point where the despots and tyrants of the world no longer fear us and thus will become our allies. I suspect that when they no longer fear our might, we will be a step away from being them. I also suspect that their animosity toward us is more based in petty envy rather than the righteous indignation that the more “progressive” thinkers among us see as the driving force behind the terror attacks and lack of cooperation. It is beginning to look like the inmates are not only in charge of the asylum, but are now running the world.
An illustration of our unwillingness to dig past the superficial confirmation of our own presently held conceptions appeared recently in Portland, Oregon recently. A seven year old girl was selling lemonade at a neighborhood gathering and had to shut down and leave or face a $500 fine for operating without a $125 dollar permit. Obviously a case of an overzealous public official misunderstanding the scope of the regulation. The story made not only the local media but also gained some national exposure. I soon read an article excoriating the intrusion of government into our daily lives. In the article he drew upon this incident to prove his point of a large, unresponsive official presence intruding into every aspect of our lives.
While I agree with his view of an out of control bureaucratic presence, I take issue with the research that went into the article. He dug just deep enough to confirm his own preconcieved opinion. Had he looked further he would have found that, far from being an example of our out-of-control government, he had a feel good story of common sense and compassion overcoming the blind, letter of the law mind-set. The policy was corrected by that official’s superiors and the little girl earned enough money at her lemonade stand (about $1800) to take her and her mother to Disneyland for a vacation, and lemonade stands will remain a welcome summer example of the industrious nature of our youth. Hardly an example of run-away government.
Teach me, but please make certain that you have the whole story before try to convince me. Such shoddy journalistic integrity is simply rampant in our media. The public picks up on these inaccuracies and soon they become a part of our public consciousness, further dividing us in unnatural and destructive ways. Once something makes it to print, there will be a large segment of our society taking these lies and half-truths as fact.
I believe that we will continue to become more divided as a country if we will not commit to due diligence to get at the truth, not just the truth as we see it. Check both sides of an issue before you decide. How painful can that be? Certainly less painful than tearing our country apart over issues only partially understand.