I was reading the other day about what might be called “antipathy gaps,” as measured by a series of sociological surveys, which revealed that there is a greater and stronger divide in terms of antipathy between Republicans and Democrats than there is between races… for the first time in decades, and probably ever, although there aren’t any studies that go back that far.

As someone who was active in politics for roughly twenty years, I can certainly attest to the growth of the divide between parties. When I began my career as a political staffer on the national level, there were numerous friendships across party lines, and there were even a great number of issues on which both parties worked and reached agreement. That began to change in the 1970s, and by the early 1980s existing friendships were often fraying, and very few cross-party friendships were formed between newcomers to the U.S. House and Senate. This process appears to have continued, and I suspect any politicians who are friends with their peers in the other party appear to be keeping any such friendships under wraps – assuming more than a handful of such friendships even exist.

I’ve noticed the same among politically active acquaintances, and it’s very clear that almost any discussion of political issues almost invariably degenerates into party-line positions among the vast majority of them. So far, at least, we’ve remained on good terms with friends who have other political leanings, if at the cost of never discussing certain issues with them in any depth. This “social” polarization is also reflected in the letters to the editor in the local and regional newspapers, but I suspect part of that reflects an editorial predisposition to fan the flames in order to generate controversy and, thus, sales.

As a nation, we’re faced with incredibly complex issues, all of which have arisen from the conflict of multiple factors, and none of which can be resolved by the simplistic rhetoric and “solutions” of either party’s current political stance on the “hot-button” issues because both parties have developed positions reflecting the views of their activists, and those views are seen as extreme, not only by the opposing party, but also by a significant number of Americans. Neither set of so-called solutions will work, either, because they ignore social and economic realities in favor of comforting “common sense” bromides that ignore unpleasant and inconvenient facts.

Yet, increasingly, the so-called dialogue has come to consist of both sides shouting past each other, and with the shouting getting louder every year, those seeking common ground have less say and less input… and the only change I’m seeing is a hardening of position on both sides.

It’s past time both sides looked at the facts – ALL the facts, and not just those that support each side’s position, but then, that’s not likely to happen because there’s far too much money for the media in fomenting conflict and far too much profit for the gun-makers and military industrial complex in arming everyone for the coming disaster… and the financial community doesn’t care so long as they can keep increasing their share of the national wealth.

1 thought on “Gaps”

  1. D Archerd says:

    Yes, the country has become steadily more polarized since the 1950’s but let’s keep things in perspective. We have a long way to go before we’ve reached the levels of polarization and political animosity seen in the two decades leading up to the American Civil War. In the 1840’s, political campaigns were bare-knuckled (often quite literally) affairs with scurrilous characterizations and libelous accusations flying freely on all sides. The 1850’s saw one Senator beaten to within an inch of his life by another of the floor of the Senate. The issues that divide the U.S. now are nowhere near as unsolvable as those engendered by slavery or the lack thereof in different states.

    However, what we are seeing are competing visions of what America has been, is today, and could/should become in the future, driven by fundamentally differing philosophical, religious, and political frameworks. What is exacerbating these differences is the fragmentation of our media and communities which allow most of us to live among like-minded people, read or watch only the news and opinions whose outlook we share, and to basically remain completely insulated from having to consider any alternative viewpoints.

    To borrow the cliché characterization of this dichotomy, we can look at some of these differences under the labels of Red America and Blue America:
    o Red America tends to reside in the South and Center of the country geographically; Blue America is concentrated on the East and West Coasts
    o Red Americans tend to reside in small cities, towns or rural areas; Blue Americans are heavily urban
    o Red America sees the U.S. as exceptional, the best country in the world and morally superior to all others; Blue America sees the U.S. as just another member of the family of nations, better than some others in some aspects but inferior in others, and with its own share of shameful and morally reprehensible acts in the past and present.
    o Red America is deeply religious, often cleaving to a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of the Christian Bible and believing that God plays an active and daily role in the lives of individuals and our nation; Blue America is either completely secular or follows the “mainstream” religions which do not interpret scriptures always literally and who do not believe God is either going to punish or save the nation.
    o Red America believes strongly in individual initiative and hard work and feels government welfare are handouts that kill incentive for the downtrodden to better themselves; Blue America believes government has both the ability and responsibility to aid those whom life has dealt a bad hand
    o Red America distrusts science, especially in areas where it appears to conflict with scripture (evolution) or threatens livelihoods (global climate change); Blue America treats science in much the same way Red America treats scripture, accepting the current scientific paradigms unquestioningly.

    I could go on, and like all generalizations, the foregoing characterizations are suspect, but they do illustrate some of the underlying philosophical foundations driving the increasing polarization. The trick is figuring out how to get the two sides to actually hear each other and to give each other the benefit of the doubt, being willing to credit that both sides want the best for their country even if they disagree on the best methods to achieve that.

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