Over the weekend, Democratic pollster and former Bill Clinton consultant, Doug Schoen, wrote an insightful, analytical piece about Democrats and Republicans increasingly “loathing” one another. Can it be fixed? “Can anyone lead us to compromise?” Or do too many no longer associate any kind of compromise with wisdom?
Schoen began by detailing last week’s intentional gunfire directed at Republicans only. What was scary about the shooter is that he was not an “extremist.” Like many of us, he did “make a habit of criticizing [in this case] conservative viewpoints and projecting his own militantly liberal ideas across social media. His spiral downward into violence is a blatant depiction of the extreme rage that now permeates both extremes of the American political spectrum.”
Schoen asserts that even though America’s history has not always been peaceful, “we are approaching uncharted waters in terms of the stark ideological polarization in our country. Wednesday morning’s tragedy was a manifestation of the aggressive hatred that is fueling the schism between the left and the right.” The middle ground is gone.
Schoen then shares the data over the past two decades, sharing how increasingly more engrained partisan loyalty has become… how significantly fewer identify as “moderate”… how many would be deeply unhappy if their son/daughter married someone from the other party. We even think less of the other party. As the NY Times summarized last week, “Americans in 1960 were more likely to allow that members of the other party were intelligent, and they were less likely to describe opposing partisans as selfish.’”
No more. We are so judgmental now. Writes Schoen: “What these people fail to realize is that their own accusation towards the opposing party is, in itself, a threat to the well-being of our nation. The alienation of fellow Americans and their ideology discourages discourse, it discourages understanding, and it discourages unity. Disagreement is perfectly healthy. The two parties, with different philosophies, are bound to present different plans for health care reform, and to have different tax priorities, and to approach paying for infrastructure differently. But the idea that these differences are unbridgeable, that the two sets of ideals are so alien to one another that it is simply impossible to negotiate with our fellow Americans, is absurd. We have a common philosophical foundation. We are not Sunnis and Shiites, or Fascists and Communists.
Or are we? As we saw on Wednesday, incessant, dehumanizing intolerance shown towards opposing ideologies breeds something closer to blind hate. [Shooter James] Hodgkinson made a target of the Republican baseball practice, acting on his expressions of displeasure regarding the current administration’s values. An unspeakable act of violence stemmed from a simple difference of opinion.”
Can we no longer handle differences of opinion? Are those opinion holders stupid? Are they evil? Do they deserve to be shot?
The Intramuralist, for one, has been pleased with the pleas for unity and bipartisanship after the shooting, but let me be clear: I want it to happen for more than one week. I want it to happen consistently. I want change from our leaders — change from us. I want us to listen to one another. As Schoen advocates, “We will not move forward as a country if we cannot find a middle ground. I say this not as a political analyst offering advice, but as an angered citizen, hopeful about everything that this nation could do and be.”
Both parties/partisans take turns resisting and refusing, with adults even resurrecting the old playground mantra that because “they did it first,” it must be ok.
Presidents, leaders, and legislators from both parties have contributed to this political divide. Many have also called to heal it. Again, as said by Schoen: “[Trump’s] response to Wednesday’s shooting, however, was a step in the right direction. Trump made a powerful statement that demonstrated that he has the capability of leading a united coalition against partisan hostility. He said that ‘We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, we love our country.’
And it wasn’t just the President that suggested a message of unity. Politicians from both sides of the aisle corroborated the importance of reduced polarization. Speaker Paul Ryan urged his colleagues ‘to show the country — show the world — that we are one House. The people’s House — united in our humanity.’ Soon after, Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader, echoed the words of Ryan, her political opponent, calling his statement ‘beautiful’ and exclaiming that the shooting was ‘an injury in the family.’”
But Schoen’s final point is perhaps his strongest. While last week’s bipartisan pleas were healthy, the current election process for presidents and House representatives specifically magnifies the division; the divisions are growing. Hence, Schoen’s point is that we must stop blaming those who represent us and look first to ourselves…
“If the American people continue to drift further and further apart, it will be impossible for our elected officials to genuinely represent the extremism of those constituent opinions while also compromising to the extent necessary to enact bipartisan policy.
When a democratic government loses touch with its constituents to the extent that the United States government has, a sense of public betrayal is inevitable. Party leaders need to take more responsibility to represent their electorate in a way that moves the country forward…
Without popular support and some degree of trust, government faces a tragic crisis of legitimacy. As we saw on Wednesday, this can manifest itself in inexcusable ways. It is absolutely imperative that our country disrupt our current trajectory towards further polarization, division, and hate. We must come together as the United States; our country depends on it, our well-being depends on it, and our children’s future depends on it.”
We can no longer excuse the inexcusable. The rhetoric. The disrespect. The judgment. It starts with us.