American Politics: Too Far Separated to Ever Unite
What Are Your Earliest Memories of American Politics?
I was about four years old when John F Kennedy was killed. The only thing I really remember about his presidency was that my parents were upset that he was Catholic and possibly cheated on his wife. Six years later Richard Nixon was president and the only reason I remember him was that he came to my home town and rode in a parade. We got out of school to go see him zoom by waving with a shock of black hair like a Ken Doll in a Barbie-mobile. It all seemed like fantasy that someone that important would want to zoom by someone so unimportant like me and wave in my general direction. I am sure he was waving at me.
As the years progressed we dealt with secret tapes, a movie star who rode horses (that made him okay, right?) getting elected to president with a wife who consulted psychics and believed the stars controlled our destiny. From that point it seemed like Mr. Toad's wild ride with most of us wanting a peaceful society run by intelligent people who looked out for the interests of everyone not just the rich and powerful in the guise of helping the poor and downtrodden. That never seemed to happen and politics has either become much worse since the 70s and 80s or our perception of it has become worse.
How You Vote or Whether You Vote Depends on How You Were Raised to Some Degree
'I was probably 18 when I registered to vote and really don't remember that much about it. I think I voted for Jimmy Carter. That was in the days when southerners were mostly democrats. I am not sure why, but it seemed to have something to do with that split between the north and the south some 150 years or so ago.
The south was still mostly about agriculture, education and better jobs. We were religious, mostly Christian, adhering to Biblical teachings and passing those beliefs to our children. We believed in state's rights and were a bit against equality for all if it meant big government was going to tax the little man and mom-and-pop shops into poverty in order to provide for those who would not work or take advantage of numerous free programs to raise themselves out of poverty through their own efforts rather than holding on to past grievances, though for many, those grievances were very real.
Southerners have always been conservative, pragmatic, often being labeled as slow thinkers for not grasping on to new ideas until they were proven to have merit. Southerners also felt that each person needed to work hard for themselves and that what they earned, raised and gave freely to others should not be taxed and taken away and especially not given to those they thought did not deserve it. I think this latter belief drove us deeper and deeper away from socialist ideas, which the early Christians embraced amongst themselves (if not outsiders) and toward a more 'protect-what-ya-got-from-those-who-would-take-it-away' attitude which went hand-in-hand with the rebel south which still had not given up the fight against those dastardly Yankees and their liberal ideas that were going to ruin the country if no one stood in defense of conservativism.
Like it or not, there is still a split between the rural areas of the south and the industrialized areas of the north and we all still bristle at having our rights taken away from us in order to give rights to others when we feel that what they are doing is actually wrong. It is a battle that is unlikely to end and highly influenced by the culture in which you live, though not always. Being educated does not always seem to change things either. Often our political affiliations seem to be more of an issue of heart or feeling than head and thinking.
The Parable of the Two Winged Goose
There was a bird sitting on the water. He had a left wing and a right wing, but they were both separated by a great divide. The bird had lived on the water most of its life and never really had any issues with not being able to fly, but there was a great storm coming and all the other birds had already taken flight and were headed towards a safer place.
At first the bird refused to fly. Surely the others were wrong and there was no storm coming, but as the skies grew darker and the wind more fierce and the calm waters roiled with sickening waves, the bird became afraid. At first it flapped it's left wing but nothing happened so it flapped the left wing harder, almost going under the water and only managing to pull itself further to the left.
Then it flapped it's right wing, but the same thing happened. No matter how hard it flapped one wing or the other, it only went around in circles or made the choppy, muddy water around it more turbulent.
At last, the bird gave up, certain of imminent doom, when in a last ditch effort to free itself from the impending storm, it flapped both wings equally strong together and took to the skies just barely clearing the storm and surviving to tell the tale to others: "Remember children, when you have two wings it is very important to treat both with respect and not let one rule over the other, but work both together to achieve great strength and soar ahead of the storm, avoiding certain destruction from the elements."
The United States Can Only Be United If Everyone Works Together Towards Similar Goals
Today we basically have two political parties. There have been many attempts to add a third party, even a fourth, but they have historically failed to produce any leaders who could rally enough votes to win a major election. Often these candidates have very radical and unpopular opinions that frighten main-line voters on both sides of the political party.
In the last twenty or so years and especially in the last ten years, it seems that political candidates are becoming more polarized or radicalized along party lines. Mention Conservatives and Evangelical Christians and your thoughts immediately turn to the Republican Party. Mention Atheists, Women's Rights and Socialized Medicine and the Democratic Party comes to mind. We are split on issues of abortion, funding education, legalizing gambling and drugs, homosexuality and gender neutral acceptance and most of us feel very strongly one way or the other on such issues.
Few of us care for greedy businessmen who take advantage of low-income consumers, yet some of us feel that if everyone was given an equal share of income, then there would be no discrepancies or inequalities between anyone while others feel that they should not be made to feel ashamed because they worked hard and invested wisely and want to enjoy some of that financial gain for themselves and loved ones rather than having it taken away and given to strangers.
Some feel abortion is a woman's right and that no one can tell anyone what they can do with their own body, while others feel that a woman owes an obligation to the growing child inside her womb to care for it and love it and treat its life as valid as anyone else's life and the arguments ensue.
In almost every disagreement we put our emotions ahead of the facts. We view the other side as cruel and uncaring, heartless, only concerned about profits. When we do use facts we pick and choose those studies and situations that fit how we feel and ignore those that support the other side.
Is there any way the two parties can work together to achieve the good of all people or is it a reality that some groups will have to give up rights so that others may have them? This is a real issue and people on both sides of the political party and in those fringe parties that grew out of frustrations with the main parties as well.
Part of Our Problem is that We are so Focused on Individual Rights that We are Unwilling to Focus on the Rights of Others
With State Elections coming up in November, we are once again hit head-on with political ads that could make anyone blush. "We're gonna 'round up all the illegal aliens and send 'em home!" Yells one candidate as he cocks his rifle and stands beside his American-made Pickup.
The woman running against him for the opposing party states that she will give free healthcare to everyone who needs it and fund it by taxing the wealthiest people and creating new incentives for marijuana sales and casino gambling. Both sides shudder in fear that either would be elected.
It is Jerry Springer politics at it's not so finest. Both parties seem crude and unrealistic, living in a fantasy world and ignoring the potential dangers of only seeing one side of the equation to the detriment of anyone who disagrees with them.
There no longer seems to be a middle-ground and it becomes an issue of electing into office the "lesser of two evils" which still does not justify electing an evil, but what can you do? Should any one candidate have the power to radically change life as we've known it? Why strike fear into the opposing team and threaten to take them down thinking this is a good thing?
When someone threatens to take away the life you love, what do you do? Do you let them have it and suffer and lament that you no longer can live peacefully and must accept abuse because you are not powerful enough to stop it or do you fight back and take back control and if you do get control, do you do the same thing to them that they were going to do to you to "teach them a lesson" or do you try to work with them to compromise so everyone feels represented, not just the people in power?
Recently a friend of mine told me, "We have to vote for this side because if the other side wins, they will ruin this country." It has really become less a, who will do a better job running the country and more of a, who will do a horrible job and ruin the country, and let's try to keep that person from getting into office.
I don't really know where all this political radicalization will take us, but it does not look rosy. I don't want to take rights away from others, but I do not want to have to give up my rights in order to honor the rights of someone else. I am all for fairness, but not for being treated unfairly.
The way I see it, if we are all invited to a movie preview and I do not like what I am viewing, I have the right to get up and walk out. I do not have the right to stand up and scream about how horrible the movie is and demand it be removed and burned and never viewed by anyone else ever again. In the first instance I am exercising my rights of freedom to do as I feel is right for me. In the second case, I am abusing the rights of others in order that my rights be placed above theirs and that is really what radicalization is all about.
Hey, America! How About Us Not Going to Extremes
Part of the solution to the problem might be interacting politely with one another and expressing our views, not our emotions so much, on why we feel as we do. Too often I see people getting violently emotional to the point of calling people they oppose morons and reducing their status to animals and fecal matter which is demeaning and hurtful and does not help find a middle-ground.
When faced with attacks on your beliefs it is common to attack back. Those who remain quiet are often deemed as weak or stupid rather than respectful and thoughtful. No group can expect that attacking another group will solve problems or win battles, it will only cause a greater divide.
I love Christ. I do not eat meat. I do not force my beliefs on others. I love animals and the environment and want to treat all people with dignity, not just people who look and act like me. I enlighten others when they say things I know are not true, based on experience or factual studies. I try to keep an open mind on topics, but even then, when people get bitter and angry, it is very hard for me to control my own tone of voice and keep my emotions in check. Worse yet, my education often entices me to use a condescending tone to make the opposing party look less intelligent, even though I know this is not Christ-like and more of an ego-trip for me than balancing out an injustice to humanity.
Any time we assert that someone is less-than us, we escalate the situation. Instead of thinking that women who want abortion on demand are cruel and heartless, maybe we can look at what drives this behavior. Instead of thinking that people who are opposed to making marijuana legal are living in an authoritative state of denial, perhaps listen to why they are opposed and understand that not everyone is a fan of things they see as weakening the moral fiber of humanity. For both parties, maybe there is the fear of the proverbial Pandora's Box that once opened cannot be shut and will lead to greater atrocities than the freedom to choose what is best for oneself.
It is not an easy matter to mend the divide between people, but being less extreme and more open to seeing the side of someone else might at least open dialog which could lead to less egregious solutions with each side having to make some concessions without having their own rights violated.
In any event, getting angry and accusing others of wrong-doing, calling people names, dehumanizing them or even calling for bad things to be done to them is not something anyone should condone as good.
Let us hope that we can join forces and fly higher away from the dangers of one party rule. We must work together to solve problems or we will continue to have problems with no solution. Maybe part of that solution would be to have a non-partisan council to advise politicians in office before they made decisions and place the good and the bad on the table to weigh which choice would best benefit all concerned. In any event, things need to get better or we will be so divided that we cannot work as one and like the proverbial two winged goose we will keep flapping around in muddy waters until the storms weigh us down and drown us in the mire we created. I don't think anyone wants that.
Let's put those two wings together and fly; soar above the muck and see clearly the solutions we need to take to keep everyone safe. Maybe then we can truly claim to be united once again. It's worth trying, don't you think?