According to a recent, widely publicized report from the Pew Research center, Americans are more divided along party lines than they have been for decades. Not only have many Democrats and Republicans become more strident in the ideological leanings, according to the report, but they have also developed a great deal of animosity toward each other.
A rising percentage of Americans on both sides of the political divide say that the other party is a threat to the country, that they prefer to live near people of their own party, and that they would be upset if a relative married someone who was aligned with the other party. More and more of us don’t just disagree with our political opponents, we think that they are fundamentally bad people and view them with utter disdain.
That mystifies me. I’m very independent-minded and have never been much a “joiner,” so I’m not a member of any political party. I just can’t understand how anyone could identify with a political party or philosophy to such an extent that they see the other side as the force of darkness that must be defeated at all cost.
It’s not hard to see why this mutual enmity between the parties is a destructive thing for our country. As Abe Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” There are plenty of signs that our house is on shaky foundations right now.
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Our federal government has in a very real sense ceased to function. Congress has been unable to attend to its most important duty (passing a yearly spending plan) for some time now, and there is no sign that will change any time soon. They are the very definition of a do-nothing Congress.
But we can’t blame them. We don’t elect moderates anymore. It’s a dirty word on both sides of the aisle. Compromise, even though it is the only sane course of action with a divided government, is seen as a sign of weakness and a betrayal of the cause of progressivism or conservatism, depending on which side of the aisle you sit on.
It boggles my mind that people have such blind loyalty to political parties. I probably agree with the Republican viewpoint at least 75 percent of the time, but you can bet I’m going to stick to my guns on that other 25 percent, no matter what.
If I were a Republican congressman and I had to vote on an issue that I disagreed with the party on, I would not let the party dictate my actions. Of course, that only means that I could never get elected. And even if I did somehow get elected, I would be shunned and marginalized by the party machine in Washington and thereby be rendered ineffectual. That is what things have come to.
The country has divided itself into two warring tribes that think the other side is The Enemy. Those of us who aren’t party loyalists are disgusted by the whole situation and are basically tuning ourselves out of the political process.
This is about the time in my column when I’d normally offer some positive suggestion about how we might make this all better, but I am having a hard time seeing a way out of this one. The only real solution I can see is for all the politicians and voters who think their party is somehow anointed by God as the one true force for good in the world to go sit down somewhere and get over themselves.
If you ever find yourself agreeing with any peer group you belong to 100 percent of the time, and looking with real animosity at any group that holds opinions counter to the one you run with, it’s time to take a good long look at the situation. It’s possible you aren’t thinking for yourself.
You might think about spending some time with people who hold contrary opinions and really listening to what they have to say. It’s called civility, and like “compromise” it’s something that really should have never become a dirty word.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.