It’s either my way, or the highway.
In terms of politics and ideology, this seems to be where the United States of America is headed if we’re not there already.
Life in the real world isn’t like that. Even those of us in happy marriages don’t always accept everything our spouse does or says without question. You may be a big fan of a certain musical group, but that doesn’t mean you have to love every song they’ve ever recorded.
To me, that’s healthy. Right now, though, a significant portion of Americans seem to have circled their wagons of opinion, dooming any constructive dialogue in the process.
Thus, a lot of conversations are sounding something like this:
“But I don’t agree with that. What I read (hear) from …. is …. “
End of argument.
The classic example, of course, is the furor over the 2020 presidential election. You can look at the evidence — such as the reluctant admission by a number of Republican electoral officials that there was no sign of organized fraud — or you can choose to dismiss that as “fake news.”
For many who approve of Donald Trump, everything he does is part of a master plan the rest of us can’t understand. For those who don’t, he is the embodiment of evil. Nobody seems to be saying, “Well, Trump is OK part of the time.”
So how did we get to this place?
True, some of the major issues in American history have come down to a simple yes or no. If you were one of the early colonists, you either agreed with making a break from England, or you didn’t. There was no middle ground. The same with slavery, the Civil War and a number of later “hot button” questions (including abortion rights, still a major source of contention).
Still, it seems different today. The Vietnam War was divisive, to be sure, but it was first a Democratic president, then his Republican successor, who kept it going. Opinions in Congress were all over the map. Now, members of each opposing party cling together like barnacles on a pier.
Although Donald Trump didn’t create this polarization — it has been building for decades — he has certainly capitalized on it.
It reminds me of these lyrics from a tune by Don Henley: “There is no shame, no solution/ no remorse, no retribution/ just people selling T-shirts.”
In Henley’s song, that quote came from none other than Satan himself.
What has been lost in the scuffle, I fear, is what used to be a core American virtue — common sense. We knew that “good” people (from our particular perspective) sometimes did bad things, and vice versa, so we kept a wary eye on all of them.
Now, if something espoused on our side of the fence seems a bit much, we just ignore it. I doubt if any of the House Republicans who shrugged off the election of QAnon follower Marjorie Taylor Greene to their body actually believe that any of their Democratic colleagues are Satan-worshipping pedophiles on the side, but their silence on Greene raised the risk of being affirming for her fans.
My favorite assault on common sense was perpetrated a few years ago by Alex Jones of InfoWars, who maintained that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was actually just a “false flag,” a mere performance intended to create more support for stricter gun regulations. The kids involved, still very much alive, were shipped somewhere else (Pakistan was suggested).
Except that for such a conspiracy to have succeeded, every school administrator, health care professional, law enforcement person, and media outlet in Connecticut would have to have been involved in the plan. And would people really feel so strongly about the gun issue that they would say goodbye to their kids over it? Wouldn’t at least a few parents have resisted?
Pakistan, by the way, is not known as a bastion of gun control.
For some, however, “I’m against stricter gun regulations” means believing in everything a like-minded person or group might say, no matter how ridiculous. As the old saying goes: “I know I’m right — don’t confuse me with the facts.”
Most followers of Donald Trump laud him as anti-Communist, neglecting the fact that he has repeatedly cozied up to Vladimir Putin. Putin is the current the leader of Russia, but he was also an intelligence office for the KGB under the communist USSR.
Personal experience can also tip the balance, as in the case of the coronavirus pandemic. If you don’t know anyone who has contacted COVID-19, you may be susceptible to the argument that it is all just a hoax. If someone close to you has been affected. the opposite will be true.
Quite a few things have provided bricks for the walls we’ve built. The rise of the Tea Party, which glorified unfocused insurrection, is one. The gradual entanglement of religion with politics is another. The fact that TV pundits, Websites and newspapers on both sides of the philosophical divide no longer seem to make a firm distinction between news stories and opinion pieces has taken its toll, along with the plethora of Internet sites where those with extreme views can find each other and grow louder. If nothing else, there is the current national boredom and irritation caused by COVID-19 restrictions.
We might need another viable political party or two to break the current congressional deadlock. We should stop electing our public officials on the basis of a single “litmus test” rather than their overall qualifications for leadership. And along the way, we need to find our common sense again.
For politics is not the only source of conversation. Those who oppose Trump could no doubt find common ground with many of his ardent supporters in a lot of areas — food, music, movies. They might go to the same church, or drive the same make of car. For now, perhaps, it might be better just to agree to disagree when it comes to ideology and hope this disturbing phase passes with time.
Do you really want Alex Jones as your president?
Darrell Laurant is a veteran journalist who previously worked at the News & Advance (Lynchburg). He published over 7,000 pieces in three decades. Darrell has covered papal visits, the Olympics, American sports, and political issues in Virginia. He has also written a variety of books, including "Inspiration Street: Two City Blocks that Helped Change America."