The Mantra Of A Polarized Society
“La, la, la, la, la! I can’t hear you!”
I have a father whom I love, but I can’t really speak about politics with unless I agree with him. He loves Trump. I have a brother who plays the ultimate contrarian with me on anything and everything liberal. To him, Trump is fighting the ultimate conspiracy against America and the liberal left have absolutely nothing positive to offer. One of my sisters appears to be a Trump fan, the other I don’t know about. My mom? She reads lots of history books and enlightens me, but she doesn’t like to talk about politics. I love them all, no matter our politics.
I’ve tried political discourse in social media. On Facebook, it’s kind of nauseating. If I want to be a masochist for a day, I can find plenty of people who enjoy unrelenting and vitriolic taunting of me for thinking even slightly different than they do. I can’t possibly be a good liberal unless I support Joe Biden this year. Conservatives will tell me that Bernie Sanders is a socialist. The anarchists don’t like either party (I’m with them). And the libertarians disagree with me that the Libertarian Party is just a front to promote a lopsided economy in favor of big business interests.
On Twitter, I actually have had great correspondence from many different political viewpoints. I admit that my experience is not uniform. Some people are more open to different views, and some people actually try to speak with the other side with civility (applause!). And some seem to discount what the other side says just because of the source, not the facts.
But what I really get the most from political discourse is that neither side is listening to the other side. Conservatives think that everything that CNN says is an unadulterated lie while FOX News is the gospel. Liberals spend all day fact-checking FOX News without even noticing that some conservatives have some good ideas. In other words, both sides are so ready to discount the message because of the source that they never really hear what the other side is saying. We are vigilant when it comes to dismissing the other side.
The United States is a polarized nation because we don’t listen to each other anymore. The message I get from others in political discourse is that the person who states a fact is more important than the facts stated, even if the facts can be corroborated by both liberal and conservative sources. I read sources across the political spectrum to see if two fanatical and extreme viewpoints can agree on a set of facts. Often times, I find that they agree on the facts, but they diverge on how to interpret the facts.
“But you weren’t there so you don’t really know.” Yeah, I get that a lot. If the Washington Examiner and Mother Jones find agreement on a set of facts, I think I have reason to believe that two very enthusiastic and polarized set of views that just happen to agree on a set of facts are speaking the truth about the facts. I’m listening to both sides. I’m reading both sides. I use the polarity between two diametrically opposed sources to find corroborated facts. This to me is the beauty of the internet.
Are you worried that the liberal social media giants are censoring the poor beleaguered conservatives? Don’t worry, I get plenty of conservative viewpoints in my feeds and I’m a liberal. I seek them out to see what they’re saying. If you’re a conservative and you have a good idea, I want to hear it. If you’re a liberal speaking to me, you’re already preaching to the choir. Spend some time with a conservative and express yourself.
I live in Utah, a sort of liberal Red State. I enjoy municipal broadband with a gigabit fiber connection up and down for $80 a month. That’s a Red State idea. Downtown Salt Lake has Traxx, a very nice public transit system. That’s a Red State idea. These Republicans also figured out that it’s cheaper to give the homeless a home than to keep routing them out of the parks every night. That’s right, they provide free housing to the homeless. Most of the people here are imperialist mercantilist Mormons. The Mormons gave up bigamy to join the Union (not all of them — I’ve met someone who had 7 wives). The Mormons here happen to be very big supporters of the LGBTQ community. All in a Red State. So I look at both sides, well, as many sides as I can handle, to understand politics.
I’m even thinking that after this stinking election, I’ll join the GOP. Not because I support all of their ideas. But my vote is swamped by the GOP in this state. I think that I might as well join them and go to their meetings and ask them some pointed questions. I want to bring the debate to them. I’m experienced with public speaking. I thrive on the feedback. I’m not afraid of the podium. I want to ask them simple questions like:
Why are we spending billions in taxpayer money for medical research and awarding patents for inventions that came about from government-funded research?
Why is it that giving CEOs more money doesn’t make them lazy, but giving poor people more money does make them lazy?
Why is that shareholders are “stakeholders” in a corporation, but the employees are not? Who is spending more time on the job? The employees or the shareholders? Why aren’t the employees represented at all on the board of directors?
Why don’t we create a standard of medicine that would allow doctors from any country that meets the standard to come here to work for a fraction of the pay of an American doctor?
I could go on, but you get my drift. I get silence when I try to broach those ideas with liberals or conservatives. I believe that the GOP promotes public policy choices and outcomes that distribute income upwards. The Democrats, through their love of big money in politics (just like the GOP) and a willingness to appease the donor class, are guilty of the same thing. Then they both act like this is how the economy works.
I’m willing to listen to both sides. I like my coffee black. Give it to me straight. I want your undiluted views, not your distractions, not your appeasements or your excuses. I want to know what each side is thinking and proposing and planning.
I think gridlock in this country is a feature not a bug of a system of government captured by entrenched interests. I think that our inability to listen to each other is encouraged by those entrenched interests that would rather have us not notice what they are using the government to do to the rest of us. They’re using the government to farm us for money. That’s easy to do if your audience is captured and they won’t listen to each other.
This is why I think it’s worth the time for me to listen to those who disagree with me. I just might find common ground.