An Eagle Needs Two Wings to Fly
I usually enjoy election season. Voting is like being a soldier in a bloodless revolution every few years. Of course, my chosen candidates don’t always win, but, to me, that’s not really the point. I don’t think patriotism can exist without participation, and voting is the clearest way to actively participate in the process. That sometimes less than fifty percent of eligible voters actually show up at the polls sickens me. So often, those who don’t vote still manage to loudly voice political opinions, without realizing how badly they, themselves, have failed their country by avoiding their electoral responsibility.
I have always loved political discourse. Over the past few years, that sort of intelligent conversation with people who share differing views seems to be less and less possible. Where once we seemed to understand that free speech meant listening to each other rather than yelling at each other, most forums of discourse (including presidential debates) now resemble kindergarten sandbox brawls.
I’m embarrassed by our behavior on the world stage. I am stunned that necessary compromise is often seen as weakness instead of strength, and that growth in understanding is often seen as disloyalty, as if, once formed, opinions should never change or evolve.
One thing that strikes me is the amount of name-calling and disrespect that people hurl at each other over political differences. When I ask proponents of particular ideologies to enumerate their opponents’ reasons for disagreeing with their stances, the answers I hear, invariably, are insults that show no understanding of the issues.
“They don’t agree because they are stupid.”
“They are simply filled with hatred”.
“They are lazy people who want free stuff.”
“They are evil”.
“They just hate America”.
If a person cannot make an argument for their position without name-calling and finger-pointing, how valid can their position possibly be?
If a person doesn’t take the time to understand their opposition’s point of view, how can they effectively represent their own interests, and how evolved can their own stance really be?
It’s impossible to consider American politics without thinking about the political spectrum which we describe as right and left, or more recently and more divisively, as blue and red.
I think all countries function best when there is a balance between the left and the right, and when both sides can compromise and work together. That we have villainized those who try to cross the isle in Washington to do just that is a sign of how sick we have become.
The question is, how did we get to this place of pedantic name-calling, and how can we fix it?
I believe the political spectrum describes natural human traits, all of which are needed for the survival of the community.
Virtually every American has the best interest of their country at heart. We may disagree about what is best for our country, but we all want our country to be the best it can be. We have to use that understanding to treat each other with the respect that has sadly gone out of style.
Imagine a small village in ancient times. Within that village, different people would have different personalities, and would be concerned about different things.
Some folks would be primarily concerned with the safety of the village. They might worry that a neighboring village would invade. They might be concerned that the village would have enough food and fuel for the winter.
These folks, concerned with security and basic resources, would take responsibility to guard the village, and make sure the food storehouses were full and safe.
Other folks wouldn’t find it in their nature to be so worried about safety. Their primary interest might be the general well-being of the population. They might concern themselves with educating the children, entertaining the community and providing care to the sick and injured. They would be able to effectively minister to the well-being of the community because those security-conscious people kept the community and its resources safe.
The security people, likewise, would understand and appreciate the value that the education, medicine and entertainment brought to the community.
In our modern American society, those concerned with security are likely to identify as Republican, or “Red”, while those concerned with health care, education and general well-being are likely to identify as Democrat, or “Blue”.
In our mythical village, it is clear that neither type of person is evil. It’s clear that the community needs both types of people to thrive.
Here in the US, we have plenty of Blue people, and plenty of Red people. So why aren’t we thriving?
I think there are three specific reasons our precious eagle’s wings are so battered we can’t fly.
1. Dumbing Down America
There was a time in our nation’s recent history when we really valued education. After Sputnik, the race to the moon was on. We won that race by making quality education a national priority. Arguably, an unintended secondary result was the youth movement of the 1960s. Since then, education has been vilified as “elitist” and “unnecessary”.
2. Changes in News and Media
Cable news and the 24-hour news cycles has removed all hope for unbiased reporting, and replaced it with news-as-entertainment. This forms the conversations we have at the water cooler and online, without actually informing anyone.
3. Mixing Religion and Politics
In any country, it’s often the most superstitious, extreme religious sects who want to frame and lead the national conversation. Let’s face it, if you believe that God sends natural disasters, war and illness as a punishment for particular behaviors, you are going to make preventing those behaviors a matter of national security.
While our national conversation has always honored a Higher Power, the hijacking of the Right Wing to serve the agenda of Evangelical Christianity was craftily planned and executed, much to the disappointment of many right wing politicians and moderate Christians.
In 1994, far-right Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, said, “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them.”
Goldwater’s words seem eerily prophetic today.
We have to respect the belief sets of others. At the same time, suggesting that we should elect officials who will prevent an angry God from punishing our nation makes as much sense as sacrificing a virgin to ensure a good harvest.
We can see how the confluence of these three problems have created the problems we face today. Perhaps we can blame our unwillingness to fund education, to truly understand world events and to legislate according to the needs of the people rather than the perceived demands of an angry God, on one huge American problem.
What is that huge problem?
Over the years, the wage gap between the heads of corporations and their lowest-paid workers has increased dramatically. We’re OK with that, because even the poorest of us is trained to admire the wealthy, and to believe that they, too, could one day be a member of that millionaire’s club.
Perhaps, the fundamental reason our national community is so dysfunctional is that we are all working to create wealth for just a few people. It happens that those people own the media, so they get to shape the conversation that keeps us in a place of fear.
We can thwart their efforts.
Turn off the television, and talk with your neighbor. Listen to people who disagree with you. Don’t quote soundbites, discuss issues.
Educate yourself about issues by reading material from many different sources. And yes, I said READ. Don’t watch cable news and believe yourself to be “informed”.
Don’t share inflammatory memes on social media unless you are willing to have polite conversation about your views, and listen to opposing views.
Resist the urge to unfriend people on social media who disagree with you. Perhaps, instead, you could find common ground with them, or learn something from them.
Honor folks with conservative values for their real concern for our safety and security.
Honor folks with liberal values for their real concern for our overall well-being.
We need both the left and the right in order to thrive. Let’s respect each other and work together. If we can learn to do this as average citizens, perhaps our elected leaders might follow our example.
It is possible to be united as a nation, even when our citizens hold diverse beliefs and values.
Not only is this sort of unity possible, it is absolutely vital.