Lately I’ve been brooding over this photograph:
Isn’t it stunning? Less than 25 years ago, right here in America, but this image might as well be from another era on a different planet. Now, Americans and their politicians are more like people caught in the misery of a failed marriage, wondering how it came to this.
That’s the question I want us all to address: how did it come to this? How did American politics reach the point where there is no longer really a government—just two armed camps with no communication…and to be seen consorting with the “enemy” is the death knell for one’s reelection?
I miss the old coöperation, collegiality, teasing…and especially the lively debate in Congress. Now there is only hatred, animosity, mistrust, and deep bitterness. And the divide is not just between groups of politicians in Washington; it is everywhere. On my recent lengthy vacation I was struck by how warily Americans approach the issue of politics nowadays. Even at lovely dinner tables with elegant appointments, people know how quickly any political discussion can descend to unpleasantness and ugly emotions.
Incidentally, I think the pervasive lack of communication partially explains the amazing and growing success of this little blog of ours. It may be small and new, but it is truly one of the few places on the Internet where people from both sides of the political divide can discuss contentious issues while remaining civil. (Okay, most of the time…) Seriously, try to find another blog where this is the case…where it is possible to debate the ideas with great passion, while continuing to be generally friendly toward the person who holds them. Civil dispute is really becoming a lost art.
So again…how did it come to this? What has caused the coarsening and extreme polarization in American politics? When did political opponents become sworn enemies? How on earth has a term like “blood libel” actually become part of the political discourse…and why is nobody even astonished that we are hearing it? Let’s try to determine where this polarization began, and how it has grown so deep and pervasive. I have a theory of my own but I don’t want to present it up front; I’d like to hear your ideas first and see you all chew it over. (Because when you do, your combined thoughts are always fascinating and enlightening.)
One thing I do know for sure…America is the United States…and a house divided cannot stand. I think this is actually becoming a time of considerable peril. I believe the ugliness and division in its political fabric has been at least partly responsible for the economic weakening of the nation and the decline of America’s image on the world stage. The government of this great country must somehow return to sanity, comity and productivity. As per Bernard Meltzer’s old cliché, American politicians need to learn once again to disagree without being disagreeable. American lawmakers of all ideologies must respect each other again, and the public has to stop being fascinated by the violent ugliness of political steel cage matches.
Most of all, we must all cultivate the ability we once had to strongly oppose a political idea while continuing to like, respect and work with the person who holds that idea. When that happens, America will once again become a “shining city on a hill” and a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.
- The Politics of Bipartisanship (macleans.ca)