Unless you have been living under a rock, you might have been aware of the deep social, cultural, political and economic divide in this country. If that wasn’t apparent previously, then the 2016 Presidential Election shined a giant light on that gaping crevasse.
Not perhaps since the mid-1800s has American society been so polarized. The question, though, is: Which came first, partisanship in politics or divergence in societal values stemming from a swiftly changing demographic?
In other words, did the the bitterness of politics spilled out into society at large, and with the aid of social media AND mainstream media, causing rifts at the dinner table and on the trains, leading to Internet shaming and Facebook defriending, and fomenting violent picket lines?
Or, were there real societal trends—incubating from demographical growing pains, technological usurpation of human labor, and a widening wealth gap—that made the the current political atmosphere inevitable?
Who knows? We may never get a real answer. Even if there was an answer, it wouldn’t be a simple one.
What we could try to have a discussion on is the current culture of politics, where party members are expected to toe the party line for fear of backlash from within. Compromising, or worse collaborating with the enemy, is anathema to party allegiance. This mentality isn’t a monopoly of one party. It’s a sickness that has infected both Republicans and Democrats. Bipartisanship is to be avoided like the plague.
In August, the California Republicans ousted their own Assembly leader Chad Mayes because he worked with Governor Jerry Brown on extending California’s Cap and Trade Program. Already fighting a steep hill battle in the bluest state and hemorrhaging voters, Mayes defended his decision as a necessary step to garner more Republican voters in a state that overwhelmingly backs legislation against global warming. His detractors claimed he betrayed the party’s position on taxation and overregulation. (There might also have been a between-the-line wink towards denying science.) In an act of retribution, Southern California conservative activist Joseph Turner published a blog post accusing Mayes of having an extra marital affair.
The party line is just as absolute with the Dems. So much so that you can’t even say anything nice about the other side, in particular about President Trump. In a speech in San Francisco, Senator Dianne Feinstein said: “The question is whether [Trump] can learn and change. If so, I believe he can be a good president.” Feinstein further said that people should be prepared for the president to serve out his full four-year term. The outcry was fast and furious, and Feinstein’s staff had to release a statement to clarify the senator’s remarks and to reinforce how “strongly critical” she has been of the president.
There was the usual, albeit more muted, complaints after the recent debt-ceiling deal President Trump made with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Still, the culture of shunning cooperation across the isle is the prevailing norm. The extreme factions of both sides have hijacked the agenda of government progress. They value obstruction over detente.
It’s not just evident in Washington and the state capitols. Among my own friends and acquaintances there is an oppose-no-matter-what attitude, especially when it comes to Donald Trump, whose vices are endlessly vilified while anything he does that might merit credit is ignored. I wholeheartedly believe that we should all condemn the misogynistic, racist, bigoted, and hateful things that he says and do. At the same time, I don’t think we have to disavow everything he does, especially if it turns out to be beneficial to everyone.
In a speech at the Dallas shooting memorial service last year, George W. Bush said, “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has stained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”
Even if you don’t like Bush, his message is a good one. You don’t disqualify the message just because you don’t like the messenger. And you definitely don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, which is what the current political climate have us do. Compromise has been at the heart of the founding of this country. It is how we have always overcome our greatest challenges. It will be exactly how we change the current toxicity in politics and otherwise.
(Posted on Miss Bennett’s Polite Political Society)