(This opinion piece of mine appeared in The Las Cruces Sun News on Monday, July 2, 2012)
The conventional wisdom is that we are a politically divided nation, with “both sides” moving further apart, ever more determined to not give an inch, leaving the moderate “middle” a virtual no-mans land where even angels fear to tread.
What can we do about it? I have at least one idea, and it has nothing to do with the leadership in Washington, D.C., or the political party you belong to. It does, however, have everything to do with you and me, and it is this:
I’m not asking you to change your party or your stripes or your deeply-held beliefs — I’m just begging you to take a step back from the vein-bulging rage and indignation.
Don’t want to? Great. Then kiss your beloved country goodbye and get ready for our next Civil War. Won’t that be fun!
Here’s my own story of the simple (though challenging) act I am asking of my fellow citizens: I didn’t vote for George W. Bush for President, but once he was elected, I hoped (for our nation’s sake) that he would “succeed”. But soon I came to feel that he was heavily favoring a large (but not majority) population that shared (unlike me) his cultural, political, and religious views. He led us into a war that I felt was questionable, at best, and reckless at worst. I came to view him as a terrible human being. I believed he was an idiot and the puppet of a neo-conservative conspiracy to force America into the role of an imperial power. I demonized him, and I got angry. I hated the man.
So when Dan Rather came forward with “evidence” of President Bush’s “draft dodging” I was ready — no, happy — to believe it.
But then there came a moment when I realized that my anger and my hatred had now become part of the problem of America. My blind, political rage was really just a counterproductive indulgence. Whatever George Bush’s faults as our President, he was just a man, not that much better or worse than any other. So when I learned that the “smoking gun” that Dan Rather had shown to America was not legitimate, I stopped believing that President Bush was guilty of that particular act. I let it go.
I’ve come to understand that those we entrust with our governance can only accomplish as much as we allow them to. So when the citizenry is as mad and dug in as we currently are, the fallible human beings that we have elected are forced to dance to the tune our angry fiddles are playing.
So the problem that we have to solve will not be fixed by sending ever more extreme (or “pure”) elected officials to the state house or Washington D.C. The folks we have there now are already deadlocked like two fighting dogs afraid to loosen the grip of their jaws on each other’s necks, while the rest of us languish, the economy staggers, and real people suffer as history keeps on marching, marching, happy to pass us by.
No. The only problem we can solve is right here in our own hearts. Only then will our most intelligent and reasonable run for office.
I pick on the TEA Party. But, then, I have actually taken the time to get to know them and to find out what they think, believe, and feel passionately about (many of my liberal friends think me crazy for even attempting this). And I’ve learned something important from these talks with my fellow citizens: 1) They feel deeply about what they believe, (I do not for a moment doubt their sincerity, even if I disagree with their conclusions), and; 2) No matter how hard we tried to find common ground in our conversations, I realized that there will always remain an unbridgeable gap between my view of America and theirs.
And there you have the one, historic problem of America that will not go away (even with a Civil War): there are large swaths of our population that will never agree (have they ever?). So what do we do? Kill each other? Attempt to shut each other out of access to government? That’s what we’re trying to do right now (and you can see how well it is working as China and India are busily working to displace America as the world leader in technology, education and innovation).
As much as we love to de-humanize our political leadership, smearing them as fascists, socialists or crooks, these people in our capitals are the contents of our own hearts and minds projected on a big screen. Which means that the bad movie we are watching is not the corruption of our nation, or our government: it is the corruption of our own reason by irrational outrage and inflamed imagination. And the only cure for that will have to come when one person at a time takes a tiny step back and recognizes that the politicians and liberals and conservatives that we are so angry at are our fellow citizens and human beings who we should treat as we would want to be treated. Maybe then our politicians will have the freedom to do their work of making the political compromises that have served our nation so well throughout our history — the kind of compromises that show respect for the beliefs, hopes and aspirations of all of our citizens. Even the ones we don’t agree with.
If we can do this — if you and I can do this — then there will always be hope for this nation that we all share.