If you feel that the political environment has gotten incredibly divisive and angry over recent years, you are right. A study just completed by the highly respected nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press states, ” As Americans head to the polls this November, their values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any time in the past 25 years”. Pew has been performing this study regularly since 1987 and finds that as a nation, we are more divided than ever. The fact that our divisions are about values and basic beliefs makes this even more important. The gap we are seeing isn’t based on gender, race or class but rather about who we believe we are as a nation. It is about our vision of our country’s future, and the role of government. This divide goes to our very core.
It is no surprise that there has been such anger and divisiveness in our political behavior and discourse. Certainly, there are politicians who demagogue these fundamental issues and beliefs and try to use them to solidify or raise their positions. They are most often the loudest and most sure of the rightness of their words. We also see radio and television pundits taking full advantage of this divide to align themselves with the positions that will garner the most fervent following. Together, the politicians and the pundits raise the volume and the state of hysteria to a point that drowns out any chance of creating an opportunity for civil conversation.
Yet, because this gap is created by such deeply held beliefs, it can only be bridged by a willingness to pursue civil dialogue. Instead, what we have seen is monologues presented to the choir by the loudest preachers on each side. This only hardens positions and has made even the thought of any kind of compromise heresy. Many of us can remember a time when compromise was not a dirty word. It was a time when politics was defined as “the art of compromise”. Today, politics has become the art of obstructionism. It is the time of the zero sum game.
We are a nation divided, perhaps more so than at anytime since the Civil War. We all can name the red and blue states. When did winning an election become more important than building a nation? When did winning an election become more important than serving the people? When did we lose an understanding that public service means serving the needs of the public, not the needs of those elected? Regardless of who wins in November, we will all be losers if we can’t sit down together and have civil conversations that produce reasonable and just compromises to solve our nation’s many serious problems.