The events unfolding, the things going on in the world right now, are troubling from many angles. Racial injustice, polarization, the centrifugal force of political fringes, rhetoric over substance, political violence, conspiracy theories, fake news, the increasing control of popular speech by private monopolies of information, the abandonment of all semblance of non-bias by most media, the ability to choose our own tailored news, the hatred people are developing for others who don’t think like them, the unwillingness to show respect, listen and engage in real dialogue – these are things that are deeply troubling in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
The political, cultural, sociological, and philosophical winds are swirling chaotically and mixing at all levels into a tornadic gale that is bordering on dangerous. These forces are not coming from outside us but from within. Even if our present chaos is influenced by outside sources, they are merely putting pressure on elements already within us. “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”
For four years, people have been blaming Donald Trump for every evil under the sun. (Pardon the hyperbole.) People have been lumping all Trump supporters into one group and condemning them (or so the rhetoric often goes). People have had good reason to be critical. (No hyperbole or rhetoric there.) But let’s take a step back (it may need to be a giant step) and attempt a look at the bigger picture.
Trump gained support over more than a dozen career Republican politicians in 2016 and was elected president over a person, in Hillary Clinton, who, perhaps more than anyone else, represented the entrenched political machine in America. Bernie Sanders mounted a credible offense with broad support against that machine but could not prevail.
I believe people gravitated to Trump and Sanders for the same reasons: they are tired of politics as usual. They feel that our political system has broken down. It has become big business designed to perpetuate power and control, rather than serve the people. Congress would rather do nothing and let presidents wield executive orders on issues that need their attention and a compromise solution (like immigration, for instance) because they don’t want to jeopardize offending their bases.
They are seemingly more motivated by a desire to remain in office, maintain control and serve themselves than the people who elect them. There is no give and take (in the good and appropriate sense) anymore. At least, not on anything that hits the hot buttons of political platforms.
We only have two choices. Those two choices are becoming increasingly unpalatable for people on both sides of the aisle, but practical wisdom suggests that voting third party candidates means taking a knee as the real game plays on without you.
Polarization is a serious issue that can’t be ignored. It is exasperated by social media that is designed for quick, shallow and knee-jerk reactions that cater to our worst instincts. Almost 100% of political campaigning involves demonizing opponents and “the other party”. We have become a nation that accepts rhetoric over substance.
The extreme polarization has given rise to the voices of the radical fringes who threaten to pull us apart. In a “normal” world, those voices would seem like largely inconsequential and impotent shrills in the distance. Today, they sound like megaphones on the Capitol lawn, infiltrating into the very House of the People.
The Democratic party has always been more diverse (in my lifetime) and has always had its diverse, radical fringes. The conservative fringes have largely operated outside the fold until recently.
I dare say the conservative fringes are more dangerous, ultimately, than the liberal ones, perhaps because they are more unified by common principles. They also bear arms like political badges.
The fringes are pulling good people from the center because the center has largely been abandoned today. It’s a no-man’s land where no grass grows, and nothing happens. People in the center are labeled “other” by the people on either side and ignored by both.
We need a “radical” change. By radical, I don’t mean extreme or fanatical. I mean a different approach to politics and dialogue with each other. We need common sense and a commitment to a bigger picture than political partisanship. We need someone who can bridge the gaps that divide us. We need a voice that brings people together on the common ground that unites us, rather than forcing all conversations to the battle lines.
If I had thought about it, I would have hoped that Joe Biden would make a step in that direction in his first comments following the announcement of his presidential victory. If I had his ear, I would urge him to be gracious, to extend a hand across the aisle, to seek to invite people of good will to the table and to heal with words of understanding.
He won the presidency. The Democrats now control both houses of Congress. Gracious and conciliatory words would go a long way in healing and in dissipating the heat of passion that has gripped our nation and created near political deadlock and brought us to the brink of danger.
The heat of passion is so great now that I see signs of revolt and rebellion and potential violence in the air. It’s been brewing for months. We have already seen it spill unto the grounds of our Nation’s Capital and into the House of Congress itself.
It’s easy to label all people who hold to conservative positions “Trumpers” in this environment and extremists but doing so ignores the reality that there is no middle ground in America today. The middle is a desert where politicians and ideas go to die.
This atmosphere plays into the hands of the radical fringe.
We need Biden and the Democratic Party to invite Republicans toward the middle. We need a conciliatory approach to avoid a virtual civil war. We can’t afford for them to use the power they now have to continue the rhetoric that has marked the last four plus years. They have opportunity to usher the country into a new way of living and doing politics.
I wish I could say that I really have hope they will seize that opportunity. But, I hope nevertheless, and I pray for them to recognize that opportunity and focus on healing this country.
It will take a big person with a big heart and divine insight to rise above the human condition that wants to say, “I told you so”, and rub it in. We need someone who is serious about cleaning up the political garbage that pollutes this country’s social landscape and change the environment in which we live so that we have a chance at real change.
This is not a time for partisanship, but a time to appeal to the good in all of us. This is the time to invite people back into the conversation.
For four plus years people have railed against Trump and his supporters (not without reason), but that constant whine has been counter productive in my view. It solidified people who couldn’t align with the partisan left, who weren’t radicals by nature, into defending Trump and aligning with him, even against their better judgment. They had no choice.
It allowed the radical fringes to have real influence in the Republican party because moderates had no choice but to align left or right. There was no hope in any middle ground.
Now that Democrats control the Oval Office and both Houses of Congress, what will they do? They have real opportunity to ditch the rhetoric and focus on substance, but will they do it? They have the opportunity to heal, rather than rub salt in the wounds, but will they?
If they don’t, the seething beast of desperate radicalism will live on and grow stronger. It will be driven underground by the dominant rhetoric and monopolistic distribution channels, but it isn’t going to die there. It will become all the more insidious and dangerous.
I am a one-time Republican and conservative by nature, trying to grow grass again in the no-man’s land between two warring parties. I am inviting the Democratic party to leave the battlefield and meet people like me in the middle and to remake the neglected landscape into a productive garden in which the soil is still fertile but in desperate need of attention.
At the same time, I am inviting Republicans and conservatives generally to leave those same battlefields. Drop your implements of war and pick up your ploughshares. War, literally or figuratively, is a desperate measure with predictively negate outcomes. It’s time to get to work on rebuilding this war-torn country.