Remember America before COVID-19?
A couple months ago, before the COVID-19 was a thing here in the United States, a friend asked me what I thought might help us in dealing effectively with the hyper-partisanship we see in American politics. I almost fell prey to the knee-jerk reaction most of us have (not excluding myself) to think of politics in terms of the current dialog from our own perspective. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something anodyne, like “listen to understand, rather than to argue,” and that we “should try to put ourselves in our fellow citizens’ place.”
The blinding flash of the obvious implicit in the foregoing observation is that while my perspective matters, isn’t the only one that matters. Most of us understand that intuitively, while ignoring even the most glaring implications.
So my prescriptions fore healing America’s hyper-partisan politics are fine as far as they goes, but it ignore the underpinning causative factors contributing to that hyper-partisan polarization.
In a hypothetically pluralistic democracy of 330 million (about), extracting a meaningful consensus on any specific issue is borderline impossible. Irrespective of where we fall on the political spectrum, do we not have to start with the notion that we’re at our best when we recognize that it’s okay to agree to disagree? Disagreements are inevitable in a nation of this size. To me, that’s the first step. But it’s only a first step. We need to recognize that there are legitimate reasons for those differences of opinion.
At the Intersection of Geography and Demographics
If you’re a farmer, you’re wondering how you’re going to compete with corporate farms, falling prices & climate change some factions in our government insist is a hoax. You know better, of course. If you’re a farmer, you live by the weather and this isn’t normal. But you’re busy trying to make ends meet & you don’t have time to sort through all the science. The latest technology doesn’t exactly pass you by, but it’s not in your face, further compressing your daily timeline the way it does someone who lives in New York , Los Angeles of Seattle.
If you’re a wage earner almost anywhere, you’re painfully aware of how many jobs have moved overseas. And if you’re absolutely honest with yourself, you know most of them aren’t coming back. All this even before COVID-19 shuttered the economy and torpedoed almost 40 million jobs, over the last three months.
But who’s doing anything about it? Corporate America isn’t. They’re automating. Portions of the government are doing what they can, but if you’ve been paying attention (you have, haven’t you?) then you that one party is all-in for corporate America while the other is more or less on our side but are the majority in only one branch of government.
We have the government we’ve enabled. We have allowed the rot of dysfunctional government to set in. We allowed money to stand in for civic engagement while we all got on with our lives, leaving politics to the politicians and high finance to the robber barons who’ve forgotten more about turning a buck than most of us will ever know.
America the Muddled...
The beginning of a solution lies not simply in recognizing we’ve been collectively had, but also in the inescapable conclusion that we are both the problem and the answer. The answer will not be some savior in the form of another politician, or self-proclaimed “non-politician.” Nor is a savior to be found in the form of a wide-eyed, well-meaning liberal barking about the emerging social imperatives of a corporate bashing counter-revolution.
We are the answer. A solution grounded in the almost laughably simple notion that there is more that unites us than separates us. It means shutting down the barrage of noise and self-serving motivated cognition from both extremes of the political spectrum and focusing on what we can honestly claim we know.
The Way Home...
Having grown up in the Heartland, lived on both coasts and the south, I’ve come to think of most of America writ large as home, not a single region. As a Marine officer, with an advanced degree in Organizational Development and a second career in corporate America, I’ve seen the world from the hyper-conservative perspective common in the Corps. I’ve also seen it from the more liberal perspective of a surfer, snow skier and environmentalist.
What these experiences here and overseas have taught me, is that we are all capable of understanding and empathizing with each other. IF we want to. But the necessary and indispensable accomplice empathy is a willing mind, untrammeled by the loud mouths with agendas, explicit or hidden.
In the age of for-profit media and 24/7/365 news, there has never been more access to information and disinformation. Unfortunately, we can no longer tune in to the 6:00 PM news and get the story from one source. If you’re getting all your information from Fox News or from the Sinclair Broadcasting Networks, I guarantee you that you don’t know what you think you know. If you’re getting your news exclusively from MSNBC, you’re getting better information but you’re still getting a lot of commentary, however well informed along with the news.
Like it or not, we have to take everything from every source as subject to multiple source verification, not to mention fact-checking. If you don’t have them bookmarked yet, bookmark OpenSecrets.Org, FactCheck.org & and Annenberg Public Policy Center and make use of them. You’ll be a infinitely harder to deceive if you know where to go for a little more balance.
Last but not least, recognize that we’re all humans with hopes and dreams, loves and passions, most of which we share in common. It doesn’t matter what color you are, who/what/if you worship or who you love, we all have pretty much the same itches. And they’re a lot of things we can do to help each other, if we want to, but we all need to step outside ourselves just a little and recognize that if we let it all go bad, we all bleed red.
D.B. Sayers is the author of four books, including West of Tomorrow, Best-Case Scenario, Through the Windshield and his latest, Tier Zero, Vol. I of The Knolan Cycle, the first in his series chronicling first contact between the Knolan Concordant and Earth.