Last week, I had lunch with a new acquaintance. It was an interesting experience because he is on the so-called red team and I am on the blue team. Our political opinions couldn’t be more different.
As we chowed down on our burgers, we discussed the state of the union, Republicans vs. Democrats, and the future of the nation.
I don’t think we agreed on a single thing.
From each side there were lots of claims of “whatabout-isms,” conspiracy theories, and a lot of each parties’ talking points. After a few more bites of our burgers and then washing it down with a Dr. Pepper, we both came to the conclusion we were getting nowhere.
Neither of us was going to budge on our allegiance to our party. Both of us had the “my side right or wrong” attitude.
I think this is a situation a lot of people can relate to. Friends, neighbors, relatives, even businesses, are now being given a litmus test on their political views before we will interact with them.
My question is, when did we become so divided? Why are we so divided?
It didn’t used to be this way. There was a common acceptance that we are all Americans first and party second. There also was an acceptance that facts were facts.
There used to be something called “The Fairness Doctrine,” which required media to present both sides of an argument when it was a controversial issue. Back then, you couldn’t hear someone screaming about abortion killing babies without someone responding with “my body, my choice.” (Or, vice versa.)
This process gave us all a chance to hear the different sides. This made it possible (if we so chose), to make an informed decision on the topic.
In 1987, Congress tried to codify the Fairness Doctrine but, sadly, it was vetoed by Ronald Reagan. This opened the floodgates and led eventually to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Laura Ingraham, among others, and ultimately to FOX News.
My father (whom I love dearly) loved Rush Limbaugh. My Dad once told me, “I’ll never forget the day I found Rush on the radio. Finally, I found someone who would tell me the news the way I wanted to hear it.”
My father didn’t want the truth, he wanted someone to say things in a slanted way that he preferred. So many (including myself) have gone down that rabbit hole.
Then came social networking, which with their carefully put-together algorithms, we were able to control the information we received.
This changed our newsfeeds into exactly what Rush Limbaugh was. It was information programmed to be heard the way you want to hear it.
Between social networking and FOX and MSNBC news, we’ve quit listening to the other side. We discount their opinions immediately because we see them as either a right-wing wacko, or a left-wing commie pinko. In other words, we don’t listen because they might have an opinion or a fact we don’t like. It’s as if we are so afraid to have our opinions challenged or being told something we don’t like, we just shut down or become angry at the other side.
What’s next then? Where to go?
Do we start dressing in blue and grey uniforms again? While I doubt another civil war would look like it did in 1861, something like it is inevitably going to happen unless we start thinking of ourselves as Americans first and party affiliation second.
We need to start listening to each other again. Everybody wants the same thing for this country and themselves. We all want America to be great. We all want clean air to breathe, we all want opportunities for us to grow, and we all want what’s best for our children. We just see different ways of going about it.
If we can acknowledge this, then maybe we can start talking, communicating and thinking in terms where we are all Americans first. We are all brothers and sisters of this great country. We all have ideas of things we need to do as a country.
Maybe the other side has a few good ideas? Maybe? Just maybe?
For the record, I’m guilty of just as much partisanship as the next person, but I’ve had it. I love this country, perfect or imperfect. I’ve decided to reach my hand across the aisle and say, “What can we accomplish together?”
This isn’t impossible. It’s the way things used to be. We can start right here right now. It’s just going to take a little effort.
I’m willing to give it a try. How about you?
Stephen Daniels is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.