The Partisan Divide

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At another time in history, I think it’s safe to say most Americans would have reacted with horror to a black celebrity reporting that he had been the victim of a hate crime, one in which he was beaten, taunted, and had a noose put around his neck. I think it’s also safe to say most Americans would then have been outraged to discover that the celebrity had faked the incident to help his stature in Hollywood. At another time in history, all Americans would have been horrified to discover that a member of the U.S. Coast Guard had been planning to massacre scores of civilians.

In both of these recent instances, partisanship took the place of common sense and a common humanity. On the one hand, liberals were all too ready to pounce upon the strange tale told by Jussie Smollett, a cast member on the TV series Empire. Incensed by a rise in hate crimes that is only too real, they assumed that this was another case of Trump supporters run amok. In the case of Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, President Trump and his fellow conservatives have been strangely loath to condemn this instance of domestic terrorism. Why? The supposed targets of Hasson’s rage were Democrats and members of the media.

It has come to a pretty pass when everything that happens in our country falls on one side or other of the giant partisan divide that makes Trump’s proposed “big, beautiful wall” on the Texas/Mexico border look like a puny Lego structure. Mind you, this partisanship has been around for a long time. Republicans resisted when the Nixon Administration was investigated and ultimately disgraced by the Watergate scandal. Similarly, Democrats bristled at the charges against Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

But our knee jerk reactions just seem to be worse these days. Maybe it’s the influence of social media and the widespread dissemination of stories online that is responsible for cycles of outrage and partisanship. It takes just a few clicks on a keyboard for any average Joe to become an instant pundit on Facebook or Twitter. Twitter in particular is like a loose handgun sitting around waiting for someone with a hair trigger temper to pick it up and start shooting.

What is it going to take to bring our country together? I pray that it won’t be something devastating like the 9/11 attacks. In the wake of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our history, we were mostly just Americans, not Democrats or Republicans. Sure, there were disagreements about the incursion into Iraq that grew out of that terrorist attack. But overall, Americans of both parties came together to protect our country against further attacks.

The actions of Jussie Smollett and Lt. Hasson are alleged. Both have been charged with crimes, but in our justice system they are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law. That does not stop anyone from speculating, pontificating, or generally being a know-it-all about their motives, character, and guilt.

It would behoove all of us to get off our high horses and take the time to listen, learn and try to appreciate the nuances of an issue, to pause and get all the facts before jumping to conclusions. Yes, it’s important to speak out against injustice. But we need to view ourselves as human beings first, Americans second, and partisans dead last. Otherwise our fractured country will continue to break apart in a massive case of partisan continental drift.

The Dreaded “S” Word

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ss_socialistI can tell the Republican Party is a bit desperate when they start raising the specter of their favorite bugaboo: Socialism. Ever since the midterm elections ushered in a new crop of legislators, many of them Democratic women and minorities, the GOP has characterized their ideas as socialist and pointed to Venezuela as their supposed governmental model.

It doesn’t help that Donald Trump has persisted with his wall folly despite the refusal of Congress to approve it. Or that Robert Mueller keeps getting closer and closer to the president in his investigation of collusion with the Russians in the 2016 election. Trump even has other Republicans challenging him for the nomination in 2020, something almost unheard of for a sitting president. The GOP needs a distraction.

So it’s time to start bashing Democrats for their sappy ideals of fair wages, health care for all, and saving the planet from the effects of climate change.

The problem is that Americans want a certain amount of government intervention to counter the effects of unbridled capitalism. Even my right wing husband, for instance, is in favor of anti-trust legislation. The New Deal gave Americans security after the Great Depression, and nowadays we take for granted that in our old age we will be able to rely on Medicare and Social Security to get us through. These may be “socialist” programs, but they are recognized by pretty much everyone to be necessary safety nets for our citizens.

Even Donald Trump ran for office promising to rein in prescription drug prices, a laudable goal but one that hardly smacks of free market capitalism. Yet common sense tells us that it’s not okay for Mylan to jack up the price of an EpiPen to $500. Lately the price of insulin, a common life-saving drug for diabetics, has shot up, jeopardizing people’s savings and even lives. Do we really not want the government to step in?

Another Democratic proposal that is being skewered by Republicans is the Green New Deal, which conservatives hate not only because it is “socialist” but because it is being touted by a fiery Millennial woman who is so not one of them. The Green New Deal is really a policy statement more than a proposed law. It acknowledges that without drastic reductions in carbon emissions in the next decade, our world is in for major destruction and upheaval.

As for health care, well, Republicans have been trying to take “Obamacare” away from people for the past 9 years, but the American public is not having it. Like the New Deal programs of Social Security and Medicare, health care coverage for all Americans is seen as a right, not a privilege. It’s worth some government intervention to establish a system wherein all Americans have access to affordable health care. We can debate whether the best way to go about that is Medicare for all or some private/public combination. But there is little doubt among Americans that health care should be affordable and accessible.

We are not heading in the direction of a socialist Venezuelan-style dictatorship. Ironically, Donald Trump, with his disdain for the Constitution and the free press, his propensity for befriending despots, and his need for unquestioning loyalty and adulation, veers dangerously close to a would-be dictator himself.

The role of government in a democracy will always be a subject for debate and compromise. Our freedoms are constantly being balanced against our needs for safety and well-being. Democrats and Republicans will not always agree about how best t o maintain that balance. But hurling the “S” word at Democrats is not a particularly productive way to have the necessary debates.

Republicans are trying to scare Americans in order to regain their stranglehold on power in Congress. Despite his glaring shortcomings, they continue to stand by Donald Trump and his politics of division. But today’s Democrats are not that easily cowed. Their vision for a better, more fair America is one to be proud of, not to retreat from. So call them Socialists all you want. I predict those so-called socialists are poised to do great things for our country.

 

Being Blue in a Red Environment

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red_and_blue_make_purple_by_mothafoochaBack when we lived in what my husband disparagingly referred to as the “People’s Republic of Santa Monica,” I was in my political comfort zone. The Los Angeles area has long been known as a bastion of liberalism, and California as a rule goes blue in presidential contests. I was surrounded, for the most part, by like-minded people. So although my husband and I sparred on political issues, I was a relatively lazy liberal.

Moving to a conservative town west of Chicago, I soon learned that my liberal outlook was not the norm. I had grown up nearby, so I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the generally Republican voting habits in the area. But I had been young and relatively uninterested in political goings-on. Now I was confronted with yard signs supporting Republican candidates and social conversations dominated by an assumed shared conservatism. I became a sort of stealth Democrat.

Over time, I developed the ability to disagree (usually politely) with friends and acquaintances on political matters. I found a few closet liberals here and there with which to share my disgruntlement about the Bush (and now Trump) administration. I even cheered loudly during the Fourth of July parade when the little ragtag band of Democrats marched by.

It’s not all bad living in an opposing political climate. Being in the minority, I find that I am more thorough and thoughtful in defense of my beliefs. Studies have shown that people who are surrounded by like-minded friends become more extreme and strident in their opinions. I, on the other hand, try to moderate the way I express my political opinions out of respect for my friends and acquaintances. It’s also instructive to learn about what others believe and why.

In our current political climate, people can feed themselves a steady diet of news and commentary that nourishes their already established beliefs. Unfortunately, Marc Zuckerberg and the folks at Facebook have made it even easier to insulate ourselves from opposing viewpoints. I find that my friendships with people on the opposite side of the political spectrum give me a more balanced perspective and the knowledge that, whatever our differences, there are decent American citizens on both sides of the aisle.

Being blue in a red community? Well, maybe it makes me a lovely shade of purple.

Fair and Balanced

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After President Obama’s State of the Union address, the analyses and reactions rolled in and were the height of predictability. Liberals high-fived each other, and conservatives criticized. For once, I would like to have heard or read a comment something to this effect:

Well, the economy is somewhat better, and universal health care seems like mostly a good idea. But I’m not sure we’re doing enough to go after ISIS. Middle class tax cuts sound good, but I don’t want to have to pay for them, if I’m being honest. Barack Obama is not the greatest president who ever lived, but he’s not the worst.

In other words, I would like to hear something more “fair and balanced” than what is trotted out in the national news and on social media. It’s getting tiresome hearing the same old saws coming from the same old pundits.

Being objective is supposed to be the goal of journalists, but more and more, news organizations, and the people who work for them, have cozied up to the powers that be. Glitzy correspondence dinners, travel, and other perks from political leaders have eroded the credibility of the news media. In the golden era of news, it was impossible to discern the political leanings of television news anchors. Now I could easily make bets on the political party affiliation of most anchors, reporters, and news analysts.

In the personal sphere, I find it frustrating to engage in political debates with friends and acquaintances. Our prejudices blind us to each other’s point of view. With such a polarized populace, how can we make meaningful progress in our society?

I have one Facebook friend named Dennis whom I have found to be refreshingly unpredictable in his opinions about current affairs. Often seeming very conservative, he has also given Pres. Obama credit where he felt credit was due. Although I don’t always agree with Dennis, at least I get the sense that he is actually sifting through facts and different sides of an issue before he makes up his own mind. Isn’t this what we should all be doing?

I myself tend to be a knee-jerk liberal. I have a hard time stomaching anything that comes from the Republican Party or Fox News. And I don’t like to admit it when the Democrats have made a mistake, such as not sending a high level delegate to the solidarity march in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo killings.

But there is only one way to grow in knowledge and understanding, and that is to seek out opposing viewpoints, evaluate evidence, and make informed judgments. Guess it’s time for me to read the National Review.