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Welcome to my blog where I will post commentary on issues ranging from fiction to public policy. Tucked away in the Idea Boxes are “how to” tips on a variety of projects that have become part of our family’s culture over the years. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas there. My blog will take you through the fantastic journey of writing fiction, as well as the decisions I will be making about publication of my first novel One Summer in Arkansas. Thanks for your interest.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Stop Political Hatred in America



As we begin this week of the transition of political power, our country has never been so divided.  And while I’m not happy about the outcome of the November election, my biggest concern is not how the country will fare under a Trump presidency.  My biggest concern is whether our democratic political system is sustainable in today’s America.

As many have pointed out, the divide, distrust and downright hatred between our two major political parties is more extreme than anything we have previously witnessed in U.S. history. Based on recent studies by respected academics, members of opposing political parties are having less and less to do with each other, believe the other party is ruining the country, oppose any idea (no matter how rational) that is associated with the other party and earnestly believe politicians from the other party, and those who support them, are evil.  Apparently this new political distrust is stronger even than racial or ethnic bias.

There are a number of reasons that explain this deep distrust.  People are increasingly living in communities with similar political and moral values, in part through choice and in part because of educational and socio-economic barriers.  The 24-hour news cycle, driven by profit motive to cater to sensationalism and often to a particular base, has been outdone by the Internet, where unfiltered opinion is disguised as information, sometimes intentionally false and easily spread through social media.  And Congress has set a poor example for the rest of us, as our elected representatives deem it a badge of honor to demean the opposition, refuse to compromise and cater to a gerrymandered base.

Presidents are going to come and go, but the disintegrating tribe that we call America holds the future for our children and grandchildren.  I think our most important political mission in the years ahead is to try to rebuild trust and to improve communication between the two ends of the political spectrum.

Stopping political hatred does not mean ambivalence or withdrawal from political commitment.  There are many causes which claim to uphold the country’s deepest values, giving all our citizens the best shot at leading the best lives possible.  And it is part of our civic responsibility to discern, to the best of our ability, what those causes are and to work towards the common good.

In the meantime, can you take a few personal steps to help mend the political divide?  This is generally easier to do if your party is in power.  But it’s perhaps more meaningful when the opposition is in power.  At a minimum, a “loyal opposition” that is respectful, even when actively pursuing its own priorities, will be more likely to bring moderates to its side in the next election.

·        Do not accuse a person or a political party of evil intent.  You can’t get inside another person’s heart.  Try to limit your criticism to the idea and its impact.

·        Find a way to dialog with someone from another political perspective, at least occasionally.  Find at least one point on which you can agree that the other party has raised a legitimate concern.  Learn to be a better listener.

·        Reject news coverage that encourages conflict or is excessively biased, either way.  If your television news features a broadcaster or guest pundit who is hostile or excessively biased (even if there is a headshot of another pundit equally biased on the other side), turn off the television.   And better yet, send a note to the producer as to why you turned them off.

·        Pay more attention to the contrarians.  When an elected Republican agrees with some specific Democratic proposal, or when a Democrat votes against the party line on one proposal, send them a note of appreciation for willingness to cross the aisle.

·        Encourage our schools to teach civics.  Support school efforts to teach critical thinking, discernment of accuracy over the Internet and the importance of civic involvement.

·        Reward news commentators and politicians who admit that certain problems are hard, without easy answers, and that it’s not all that clear whether we should pursue one path or another.  When you run across any politician or pundit who will admit to shades of gray, reward him or her with a letter of support.

·        Accept the fact that there are legitimate theories of improving our society from both political parties.  After all, the persistent problems that plague us have not been changed much by changes in controlling political parties.  Everyone would agree, for example, that poverty is undesirable, particularly of course from the perspective of those living in it but also in terms of the well-being of society as a whole.  If there were an easy answer to this, someone would have already found it.

·        Support organizations that work around the country towards more balanced political discussion.  Explore whether there is some equivalent of the foreign policy discussions, “Great Decisions,” pertaining to politics.  Support political forums that are non-political, such as the League of Women Voters, and grapple with how to become a better democracy.

Hard arguments in support of your view of the world turn out to be very ineffective in changing someone else’s mind.  Respect, openness to alternative points of view and courtesy are more effective political tools than argument.  Let’s start with the assumption that most Americans have good intentions and want to do what’s right to create a better world for their children and grandchildren.  If we can agree to that much, we have a chance to do a better job in running our democracy.