Want a less-divided America? Look in the mirror
By Charles V. Firlotte, Strategy Consultant
For at least the past two decades, we have heard much about the deep divide in America; how politics has become a “wedge” in our culture. To be sure, the great divide in American politics and its corresponding impact on society at large did not begin overnight, and it did not begin with Donald Trump. The president is more of a symptom than a cause, although four years later it could be said that The Donald has done little to unite us.
We can be a very forgiving people, provided the offender is “one of us.” As Nixon was leaving the Rose Garden, having resigned in disgrace, a tad over 40% of U.S. Republicans were still with him. And we only have to look back to the Democratic nominating convention this past August to witness the adoration of former president Bill Clinton, who was one of the keynote speakers, despite a long history of sexual transgressions, impeachment by the House and lying to the nation. No sin is too egregious, as long as the sinner is in my camp.
The division in America is not the fault of the politicos we send to Washington, D.C., for they simply parrot the views of those who have sent them to serve. The reality is that Americans have become close-minded, following our own parochial view of the world—seldom, if ever, venturing off course to learn a different perspective, and rarely considering a contrarian view-point.
A good friend of mine recently told me about his parents, a retired professional couple who are conservative in their politics. Their entire day, including meals, is spent listening to Fox News. Theirs is the world according to Sean Hannity—contrarian perspectives need not apply. And there are plenty of stories that go the other way, with devotees of MSNBC taking their religion from Rachel Maddow.
Yet, many Americans pine for the days when we seemingly got along better—the stories of Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan working together to hammer out bi-partisan deals are legendary. More recently, as least in the past decade, we saw the late Supreme Court judges Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg sharing a night at the opera, even though politically and philosophically they were opposites.
Unfortunately, these are rare exceptions. According to Frank Luntz, a pollster and communications advisor doing work for HBO in late 2018, more than one quarter of Americans acknowledge personally severing a friendship or cutting off a family member since the 2016 election. So, one person in four reading this is estranged from someone who once was significant to them.
Social media has made the great divide a chasm. It is not political discourse; it is vulgarity in action: “I will assert my views, but I will not listen to you if you disagree. I just want to relish the support of my tribe—like-minded mortals who think the way I do. I don’t care how many or whom I offend.”
Closemindedness is not limited to older generations. Witness our college campuses for an intolerant view of the universe. In the past few years, we have seen guest speakers at Brandeis, Haverford, Rutgers and Smith, to reference but a few, who either declined to speak or whose invitations were rescinded because of opposition from faculty and/or students. In all these instances, the speakers were conservatives, and the objecting campus clan did not want to listen to what they had to say.
Has our world become so small and our visionary grasp so limited that we dare not consider information that might run contrary to our beliefs? Could reading an opposing viewpoint not increase our knowledge base and serve to strengthen our resolve, as opposed to weakening it? Are we that intellectually insecure that we must shut out anything that does not fit our own limited view of the universe? Certainly that is what our present political climate suggests.
Diversity struggles in America, and inclusion is but a dream, because individual Americans cannot take the first step toward a more expansive view of the world. Content to play in our own sand boxes, we refuse to cross-pollinate our ideas or opinions.
This country cannot afford continued intolerance and its outcome. Open minds, conversations instead of arguments and willingness to accept that others have differing views can lead us forward as one indivisible nation.