Where have the Right AND the Left gone Wrong?
First, a disclaimer: I’m fully aware that what follows might come off as simplistic, naive, childishly idealistic (whatever), but the message is so important that it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
It was never my purpose to use this medium to write about politics because it’s not my thing, it’s not what drove me to start writing my blogs; but (more importantly) it never goes well on Facebook; it inevitably degenerates into negativity and hostility.
But, like virtually every American — at least those who have the slightest sense of what’s going on in the current political climate — no one (not even the most politically indifferent and uninterested) could possibly be blind to the reality that this election season stands out as the most divisive political period in the collective memory of our generation. Never have we seen this kind of divide between people in our so called “United Nation” — a divide that that is so clear as to create not just the usual differences of opinion, but intolerance, hostility and even outright hatred.
So as not to come off like the usual fully committed right- or left-thinking know-it-all (and thus alienate readers before making a case for what I want to say), let me suggest up front that at the very least, there are legitimate justifications for the ideologies of both the Right and the Left. (PLEASE try to avoid shutting down after reading that claim; the rest of this blog won’t be worth reading if you’ve already shut down). To be committed lock, stock, and barrel to one position without even considering whether the opposing position has anything worth saying is clearly the most unproductive posture to take. That much is clear by a simple observation of the jaded news media (on both sides).
There are basically three types of sources from which we form political opinions: television/radio; printed news; and face-to-face or written communication. Generally, all three types nurture their own point of view and express intolerance for the other.
The most productive way to nurture intolerance for the other side is to fixate on the preconceived idea that nothing the other side has to say is worthy of consideration; that everything they have to say is falsehood. And that pretty much summarizes what we see, hear, and read in today’s media.
For the Right, that means a steady and exclusive diet of Fox news and Talk-radio; disregard for mainstream newspapers as hopelessly liberal, and avoiding civil and productive conversation with anyone on the Left.
For the Left, that means a steady and exclusive diet of cable news like CNN, MSNBC, etc.; deriding Fox news as worthless and contemptible; reading only mainstream newspapers with liberal bent; and avoiding civil and productive conversation with anyone on the Right.
In short, the most productive way to nurture intolerance for the other side is to consider anything they say as a total and deliberate misrepresentation of the way things really are, and therefore as unworthy of consideration; on the contrary, worthy of nothing but disdain.
I hope we — all of us — on both the Right and the Left can agree to at least that much. If not, I’m afraid that’s where the conversation will end, as usual, and any chance for reconciliation will continue to be elusive. But if there’s even a ray of hope that we can find agreement on that basic summary… maybe there’s hope that we can move on from there.
So what would be a reasonable next step — What is one practical way that the conversation can at least start to move forward? Perhaps it is this: Avoid the temptation to seek out and highlight what we consider to be the very worst ideology of the other side, and instead seek common ground. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But let’s try to flesh that out a bit…
For those on the Right — Stop thinking you own the moral high-ground. Stop mocking (as godless disdain for traditional faith) the ideology of folks on the Left who claim to stand for traditional American values like the fight for equality, protection of human rights, personal freedoms, the freedom to demonstrate against what they see as unfair government action, etc. Those are decent values that, when considered thoughtfully, are meant to bring help and hope. Liberals consider these to be foundational values, self-evidently good values that promote only the best for humanity. In short, stop thinking that the good folks on the Left disdain traditional American values.
For those on the Left — Stop thinking you own the intellectual edge over the Right. Stop mocking (as false patriotism and religious bigotry) the ideology of folks on the Right who claim to stand for traditional American values like individual empowerment, personal responsibility, limited government intervention, free markets, strong defense, etc. Those are decent values that, when considered thoughtfully, are meant to bring help and hope. Conservatives consider these to be foundational values, biblical values that promote only the best for humanity. In short, stop thinking that the good folks on the Right disdain all values but their own as un-American.
I’m certainly not alone in being genuinely afraid for our nation. It’s not like the usual fear that comes during the political campaign season. This is different. There is a general aura of deep-seated hatred between our own fellow Americans with whom we disagree. You can feel it in the air. I’m certainly no prophet of doom (let alone any kind of prophet), but it is clear that we are living on the edge of what seems like a bad dream with potentially a nightmare of an outcome. It genuinely feels like our country is on the edge of a divide that might be almost impossible to recover from.
Having lived most of my life as an observant Evangelical Christian, in which Conservative values hold sway, I understand the Conservative mindset that sees the current crisis as just another one of those historical episodes that occur from time to time…
One of those periods that biblical Christianity has always considered to be expected in the world we live in;
A “fallen world” that will certainly go wrong from time to time, but will recover its lost values when God decides to usher in a spiritual revival to put us back on the straight and narrow path.
At the same time, having spent most of my career in an academic environment, in which Liberal values hold sway, I understand the Liberal mindset that sees the current crisis as another one of those historical episodes that occur from time to time…
One of those periods that inevitably tear at the fiber of our nation when we lose our way in the world we live in;
A damaged world that needs to be put right through the best of human effort in order to recover and put us back on track.
Clearly this isn’t the first time we’ve experienced division; it has occurred in our history time and time again. But I don’t know — this time it seems different. It seems like we today are heading so far off the rails as to make any kind of recovery of our united values unreachable.
Regardless of how the two sides characterize the problem, regardless of the vastly different solutions offered by the two sides, I would propose that there’s one place where a starting point can (and must) be reached — that is Civility; Respect. Until both liberals and conservatives exercise discipline and temper our disdain for each other and come to a posture where we can agree on a basic meeting points of civility and respect, only then will we begin to restore damaged community and begin to bring the nation that we all love back to health.
If there’s one thing that’s becoming so clear in this current political environment, it is seeing how easy and tempting it is to “pick low-hanging fruit” from the tree of the other party. Let’s face it — no matter what side we find ourselves on, we (collectively) have become so defensive, so cynical, so hostile toward one another’s position that it almost seems weak and cowardly to take a neutral posture. Our differences have degenerated to justification for name-calling, character assassination, and outright hatred.
So what’s the answer? How can we stop the bleeding and at least try to start to repair the division? Why not try this — and this is in fact a goal I set for myself going forward — When faced with an occasion to express derision for the other, no matter how justified it seems such a response would be… Stop. Consider the cost vs. the benefit. Is it worth it? Evaluate the damage and division that you can avoid by simply not going to the place where your emotionally-charged opinion or your knee-jerk reaction would take you. Fight the overwhelming temptation to do what comes natural to all of us — defend our position by ridicule and sarcasm of those who hold different opinions.
Finally, in keeping with the spirit in which this is written — the spirit of unity rather than division, thoughtful feedback and constructive comments are appreciated. Please refrain from turning this into an occasion for making your case for or against Donald Trump or Joe Biden. No one really cares about your opinion, or mine for that matter, so… make your case at the voting booth.