“Come Together” was fine for The Beatles, the 1960s hippies and idealists. But it simply won’t fly in 2016 America.
Maybe I am too much of a bitter cynic; perhaps my advancing age (57) has eroded what little idealism and hope I once had about humanity and the American people. But I call it like I see it: Our nation is hopelessly – and most likely permanently -- polarized.
President-Elect Donald Trump has promised to bring Americans back together again, but a cursory examination of our differences makes it clear this is an impossible task – barring divine providence.
The left wants abortion on demand (even the horrific partial-birth variety), so-called “green energy” policies promoting windmills and solar panels, and an aggressive agenda to eliminate human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, even if it spikes consumers’ electricity rates and hamstrings our economy.
The left wants single-payer health care, a libertine approach to sexuality and pornography on the Internet and in movies. Progressives despise religion in schools, and bend over backwards to promote public education and oppose alternatives such as charter schools and vouchers (while often sending their own children to private schools).
Leftists also are quick to sympathize with blacks and Hispanics who live in poverty and engage in criminal activities or have substance abuse problems, but think nothing of disparaging the millions of dirt-poor whites who also are plagued by poverty, crime, illiteracy and the drug scourge -- prescription opioids, heroin, and methamphetamine, the 21st century moonshine.
In the addled minds of progressives, minorities who face bleak circumstances are somehow more moral and more deserving of empathy and government assistance than the whites. After all, let’s recall that those who favor the Second Amendment and who outwardly express their belief in Jesus Christ are pond scum to the Left.
You also have ideologues on the opposite side of the coin. Conservatives tend to oppose abortion, want stricter regulation of pornography, despise Obamacare, want fewer regulations, don’t believe in human-caused global warming, favor school choice and sometimes go overboard in berating public education. To be honest, some conservatives can be insensitive to the point of racism when addressing the plight of black Americans. I am a conservative, but I also fully acknowledge that blacks got a raw deal in this country for centuries, and it is inevitable that the painful consequences won’t simply go away in a few generations.
Conservatives also tend to favor simplistic “solutions” such as prayer in school or a balanced budget amendment, and too often regard privatization as a panacea for everything from prisons to education to air traffic control to highway turnpikes.
There are many other issues I have not even mentioned. Where to begin? HOW will Americans who are at loggerheads on SO many issues, and whose fanaticism is supercharged and entrenched by the Internet -- Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets as well as blistering blogs -- ever find common ground?
For example, let's take just one issue and see how a discussion could break out into dozens of side arguments. A conservative denounces Obamacare, citing high premiums and deductibles, and low participation among young, healthy people. Taking umbrage, his liberal cohort brags about 20 million-plus more people who are now insured compared to before Obamacare, and mentions that subsidies help defray the high premium costs. The conservative reminds his leftist buddy that many of those now insured are simply benefiting from an expansion of that old dinosaur Medicaid. Then he proceeds to castigate the general idea of government subsidizing consumers, to which the liberal reminds his conservative friend that corporations receive subsidies all of the time, but right-wingers don’t seem to mind at all.
The conversation then delves into the consequences of government-mandated health regulations and authorities such as the “death panels” that decide when a patient is too old and too sick to warrant further medical attention. The two go round-and-round on that. They spar over abortion, whether free birth control should be a “right,” and whether pharmaceutical companies are gouging consumers. The conservative talks about the need for tort reform; the liberal objects, saying aggrieved consumers need redress. The conservative criticizes the FDA’s lengthy approval process for new drugs and states that “Big Pharma,” as liberals like to call it, needs to recoup its exorbitant R&D costs by charging high prices for a wonder drug before the patent expires. Then the liberal interjects that universities and publicly funded research foundations help private sector companies develop drugs, but the private concerns rake in the profits. One side cites a seemingly convincing study; the other side mocks the study as being funded by self-serving health insurers or pharmaceutical companies. Methods of surveys and studies are debated. And on, and on, and on…
In conversations with my co-blogger and others who love history, I have remarked that one could spend his entire lifetime studying, discussing and debating the Civil War and its myriad components, and still not cover every angle. The same can be said for just one of hundreds of issues on which liberals and conservatives disagree. The health care morass, as I’ve illustrated, opens up like a complex logic tree on a flow chart, and folks on both sides of the debate have too much pride and ego to concede more than a few points to their counterparts.
Take this one complex, multi-faceted issue, and multiply it by 50 or 100, and you will appreciate the magnitude of the gulf dividing our two ends of the political spectrum.
As we head into a New Year and a new presidential administration, I don’t expect the bitterness or obstinate attitudes to subside. I just hope that civility will eventually prevail over juvenile name calling and demonization. That cogent communications – both written and verbal – along with good will, brilliant persuasion, insightful elucidation and hard-fought illumination will win out over the bitter sniping. Perhaps if it’s all interspersed with a little self-deprecating humor (and maybe some good food and drink, to boot), each side can attempt to win over the other in a more civilized way.
We can always seek to be aspirational in our discourse. That doesn’t mean it will happen, but it’s at least a start. Meantime, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We’re headed down that road; the time and destination are not yet known. Hold onto your hats, because it’s truly going to be a bumpy ride.
Oh, and...HAPPY NEW YEAR!