By Alan Burkhart
America has become politically polarized to a degree I never thought I'd see. We've reached a point where the old "Us versus Them" attitude between the political left and right is nearing open warfare. Whether it's one of the New Black Panthers intimidating potential Republican voters at the polls or a Tea Partier putting his foot on the neck of a counter-protester, the signs are obvious: America is becoming a dangerous place.
We've labeled and categorized ourselves and each other. We've divided ourselves into inimical groups and occupy ourselves with hateful and fruitless pursuits, each group trying to discredit the other. We are no longer just citizens with differing opinions. We are a nation of mindless ideologues, each of us intent upon shouting down anyone else who might have a different opinion. People show up at protests with little idea of the hard facts (if any exist) regarding what they're protesting. And read the comments following op/eds on websites that support comments. The utter ignorance and hate (and poor spelling / grammar) are disheartening to say the least.
The politically active among us were once all considered to be "concerned Americans." Nowadays we are tea baggers, enviro-nazis, birthers, gay liberators, gay bashers, femmies, etc. We're divided along ethnic lines as well. African-American, Latino, Native-American, the list is endless. Divided into so many different factions, it becomes impossible to have a national identity. We are becoming a land of tribes, not a nation of one people.
A few years ago when I was still writing my weekly column, I caught hell any time I dared to write a balanced piece. It was the same thing every time: The hard righties accused me of being an evil liberal. The hard lefties accused me of being some kind of neo-Nazi. I stopped writing regularly because I grew weary of being expected to choose which choir I'd preach to.
In case no one has noticed, America's problems are not being solved. They're getting worse. While (mostly) well-meaning Americans continue to box themselves into smaller and smaller factions, the country continues to spiral down the drain. Both Barack Obama and George W. Bush claimed to be "uniters and not dividers." Both failed miserably as the people continued to move farther apart. The incoming Republicans have made the usual promises. I expect the usual results.
What happened to our willingness to work out our differences and seek solutions? Why do we insist upon an all-or-nothing approach to problem solving that can only lead to the exacerbation of our troubles? If I may be blunt, why have we become pig-headed to the point that we behave like a pack of brainless dupes? Are we all destined to become like the junior-grade Nazis from Westboro Church?
I can't provide a definitive answer. I can only offer my always-humble opinion based upon what I see.
I see a nation of grossly uninformed people, of all political stripes, dissatisfied with the state of the nation. And those people, as per human nature, look to their leaders for solutions. But the leaders by and large have no real solutions. What they do have is a desire to attain / retain a place of power while feeding their respective followers a steady stream of unadulterated bullshit to keep them happy. With few exceptions, we are not served by those we place in power above us.
And of course, there are those who flood the print media, the airwaves and the Internet with their opinions (yeah, I know this sentence makes me a hypocrite – sue me). Opinionators ranging from Ed Schultz to Rush Limbaugh constantly spew a stream of "My way or the highway" rhetoric that leaves little room for compromise. Limbaugh of course loves to point out that one gets run over when he stands in the middle of the road. And we all know what happens to your rhetorical nether regions if you straddle the political fence.
But the concept of a political road or fence is part of the problem. It's the first divider in the vast container that day by day grows more complex. Each side of the divider contains yet more divisions, separating us by race, political party and religious beliefs. We are then further separated by beliefs on individual issues, which leads many people to become single-issue voters who consistently fail to look at the larger picture when selecting a candidate for public office.
It's both natural and harmless for like-minded people to gather together and form groups working toward common goals. But such gatherings fail when they descend into absolutism. We must never lose sight of the fact that most everything is a matter of degree. When we isolate ourselves from other groups we lose the ability to reach out to those groups and seek common solutions. We instead end up at loggerheads and accomplish nothing.
The problem of course isn't limited to private citizens. Imagine if Republicans and Democrats had actually worked together to create a common-sense solution to the problems we face with the delivery of health care. A reasonably simple system of delivery with elements of both private and public sector involvement is eminently possible (something better than the equally nightmarish Medicare/Medicaid systems). But the party in power ignored all contrary opinion and created a regulatory nightmare that most Americans believe will only make things worse. Anyone surprised by this has obviously never seen our federal tax code in printed form. It probably weighs more than my car.
We as a people must swallow our misplaced pride and disavow our misguided loyalties and again learn how to work together. Our loyalties should rest with our nation as a whole, not to some group formed in your neighbor's garage over beer and pretzels. The guide to how those loyalties should be applied is found solely in the Constitution of the United States. Our current political and cultural tug of war will only result in finally breaking the rope, leaving the lot of us sitting on our backsides wondering how it could have happened to us.
Of course, the first compromises necessary would be the goals themselves. Imagine a town divided into two groups: One wishes to paint the courthouse black, the other insists it be painted white. As they dig in their heels and shout each other down, the old paint on the courthouse continues to peel. Finally someone looks up and sees the old building sitting there looking dilapidated and wonders how it ever reached such a state. If only, that one sensible person realizes, we'd just agreed on a different color.
Shall we join together as Americans and solve our problems, or shall we indulge our egos and allow the greatest nation in planetary history to crumble into mediocrity? The clock is ticking, the paint is peeling, and we have scant little time left to us to stop our bickering and behave responsibly. Stop waiting for someone else to blink and let's fix what's broken.
And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand...
[Canadian author] Hugh MacLennan
The trouble with this whole country is that it's divided up into little puddles with big fish in each one of them.
If we are together nothing is impossible, and if we are divided all will fail.