I can’t remember another time in my life when Democrats and Republicans were so distant, one from the other. In the political arena, both have become stereotypes of their former selves so that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have become catchwords for a series of associations that have come to define us, not just for political choices, but as human beings. Republicans use the word “liberal” in derisive tones, and Democrats say the word “conservative” in similarly mocking ways, making up their minds before even getting all the information to make sound judgments. Our responses have become more emotional than rational.
The results of this deadlock of philosophical differences are a comatose Congress and political battles in the media bordering on civil war, stirring up the basic prejudices and preconceptions by the media, and a few resonant voices on both sides. There seems to be no middle ground for sensible discussion, only an atmosphere of suspicion and accusation, as in Ann Coulter’s sweeping generalization this week that “Liberals hate Christianity,” which made me want to know her definition of that religion.
It’s interesting to me, for example, to observe the often self-righteous extremes of social and political vitriol between Fox News and MSNBC. There are certainly other forms of media, but these two television networks distill down to their purest forms the convictions of Republicans and Democrats. Tweaking issues and facts by leaving out important details has become an art form on both sides. It reminds me of the British cartoon posters displayed during World War I of German soldiers wearing spiked helmets and stabbing infants with swords before holding them up in triumph. Both our political parties are guilty of such unapologetic hyperbole to the point at which it becomes almost comic. There’s no better way to get an ally than to make someone angry in a shared cause against a monstrous enemy, real or imagined. Martyrdom on both sides is basic in gaining sympathy (and votes). Persecution has become a political device.
What bothers me most is the blind hatred of one side for the other, often funneling itself down to mere name calling and pure meanness of spirit through altered photographs and other caricatures. There is nothing new about such deliberate exaggeration. That sort of furious rivalry goes back more than two centuries of our political landscape, but such rage can have a powerful effect on our figurative and collective vision of whatever and wherever the truth may be.
I’ve always been suspicious of people who have no doubts, second thoughts, or reservations about their apparently clear-cut answers to spiritual questions regarding God and our “only” ways of seeking and achieving salvation (whatever that may mean) and eternal bliss. If such a person has no questions or no gray areas of thought, I usually run in the opposite direction. By the same token, if someone is so satisfied that he is completely correct and omniscient about the political arena in this country (especially if he or she foams at the mouth), I know the person is emotionally or sentimentally reduced to a simple and puerile black and white view of whatever the truth may turn out to be.
No matter how staunch a Democrat may be, if he can’t examine calmly Republican values and try to see the sense of at least some of them, his grasp on reason is impaired by tunnel vision. This works the other way around as well for Republicans. Members of both political parties wear blinders, whether they are the most naïve and fantasy-prone Democrats or the most rigid, gun-toting Tea Party Republicans. On Facebook almost daily, I see deliberately isolated and trimmed issues posted, creating false impressions and faulty conclusions among readers, who often express indignation and white-hot anger before knowing all the details, which have been cleverly omitted. The result is unjustified anger, simply because people have not done their homework to see important details that help provide an entire picture. This type of vigilante publicity is only half-information, which can sometimes be worse than total ignorance.
I suppose we need both extremes to arrive at some sensible kind of middle ground, where we can look at enough sane details (dispassionately if need be) from both sides and understand them without having brain aneurisms.
Finally, I would love to see literal boxing matches with the political opponents paired off in this way:
Chris Hayes versus Ted Cruz
Chris Matthews versus Mike Huckabee
Ed Schultz versus Rush Limbaugh
Al Sharpton versus Bill O’Reilly
Rachel Maddow versus Sean Hannity
What a great TV special this would make! The sponsor would be Ovaltine.