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.

No End to Partisan Warfare

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It didn’t take long for conservatives in the media to blame liberals for the horrific shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise and others at an Alexandria, Virginia, park. Admittedly, there’s little doubt that the shootings were politically motivated. The shooter,  a Bernie Sanders supporter,  had been posting rants against Republicans and Trump for months. Furthermore, he asked a representative at the park, where Congressional personnel were practicing for a friendly game of baseball, whether those on the field were Democrats or Republicans.

Despite those facts, members of both parties on Capitol Hill, as well as President Trump himself, called for unity and prayers for the victims of the horrendous attack. There was a call for Democrats and Republicans to put aside their differences out of respect for Rep. Scalise, other government officials, and law enforcement officers injured in the shootout.

But in the news media, Sean Hannity immediately blamed the incident on the left for their hateful rhetoric against Trump and his Republican administration. Other media personalities and newspaper columnists echoed Hannity’s sentiments. All of them conveniently ignored the upsurge in racist violence that occurred after Donald Trump’s election in November.

My first reaction to news of the shooting was that this is how far partisan politics has descended. It was bad enough to see figures of Barack Obama being lynched or burned in effigy on the one side, a fake likeness of Donald Trump’s bloodied and severed head on the other. But partisanship has gotten so bad that it has incited people to actual violence and physical harm of others.

There has to be a way to get beyond the hatred and blame that has characterized American politics in the past decade. We can strongly, and even stridently, disagree with each other without resorting to name-calling, mockery, and outright assault.

But here’s the rub: Such flagrancy makes headlines. All the major news outlets and now the world wide web of sensationalism have a stake in encouraging anger and outrage. They make for good ratings. Early on in the Republican primaries, the media loved Donald Trump. His outrageous statements and behavior were constantly being covered by the likes of CNN, whose management admitted that their ratings skyrocketed with the Trump coverage. The American thirst for drama has brought out such horrible characters as Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones, who spew their hate to an adoring audience. On the left are less famous characters who took to Twitter and actually celebrated the fact that Scalise, a supposed racist, was shot.

The Congressional baseball game, an event for charity, will go on as planned tonight, no doubt with enhanced security. The fact is that the Democrats and Republicans who work together on Capitol Hill are actually often good friends. Let’s hope their good example, as evidenced by their bipartisan remarks today and their coming together for America’s favorite pastime, can actually prevail and start to reduce the divisiveness that is making partisan politics not just unpleasant, but downright dangerous.