Recently New York Times writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg penned a piece about why our national leaders are incapable of compromise and subsequently why our nation finds itself deadlocked in political stalemate and dysfunction.
But how can we expect our leaders to compromise when we can barely stand to be around others who hold opposing views on important issues?
The piece mentions author Bill Bishop’s 2008 book “The Big Sort,” with the subtitle the same as the book’s premise, “why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart.” Bishop says “Americans are self-segregating,” they choose “in their neighborhoods and their churches, to be around others who live like they do and think like they do — and, every four years, vote like they do.”
The phenomenon of political “self-segregating” is not entirely new.
Back in 1972, The New Yorker Magazine film critic, Pauline Kael innocently uttered what is now an infamous reaction to Nixon's landslide victory: “How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon?” Kael, of course lived in New York City, a liberal echo-chamber, sealed off from the rest of America.
But now most of us have become like the late Pauline Kael, only worse.
For in 1972, the media was not fragmented, so virtually all Americans watched the same news from the three broadcast networks and read the same newspapers. We may have arrived at different conclusions but there was that basic media commonality to unite us.
Today, liberals gravitate towards television, radio and web sites (notice I left out print because it is becoming irrelevant) that reinforce their political and cultural views and conservatives are guilty of the same equal but opposite behavior.
We flock to places with people who generally think like us and, if they don’t, sometimes we even move to a new city or state where they do.
Earlier this year, a church-going, solid Republican leaning friend of mine debated whether to accept a big job in another state far from the Democrat-dominated enclave where he currently lived. Then, like something I would expect to read in the “The Big Sort” he said, “I don’t want my kids to grow up and become Godless liberals and if I stay here, they will.”
So he took the job and moved his family to a ruby red state.
Not only are we “self-segregating” by where we live, and our views are reinforced by the media we self-select, but our religious beliefs are now playing a greater role in determining our political party. Ms. Stolberg cites this research in her NYT piece:
“In 1980, Democrats and Republicans attended church at roughly the same rates. But Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard who explores “the God gap” in his book “American Grace,” finds attendance has since gone up markedly for Republicans and declined among Democrats — a sign, he said, that “people are changing their involvement with religion as a function of their politics.”
“The God gap” reminds me of an incident the Sunday before Election Day 2004. While a friend and I were inside attending church, Democrat campaign volunteers plastered all the cars in the parking lot with Kerry-Edwards fliers. My friend was outraged. To him, this was tantamount to idol worshipping aliens invading sacred space.
It is also important to note that while my friend was fuming about the flyer on his windshield he was holding a pamphlet that ushers handed him on the way out of church. This pamphlet compared the presidential candidates and lower ballot candidate’s various stances on social issues dear to the congregation.
How can we ever compromise our beliefs or ask our leaders to compromise when we are so passionate, believing what we believe is the way it must be and then seek friends, media, party and institutions who believe the same.
Division R Us.
We are now so divided that Americans even “self-segregate” by shopping places. Here is some more revealing research from Stolberg’s piece:
“David Wasserman, of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, recently calculated that 89 percent of the Whole Foods stores in the United States were in counties carried by Barack Obama in 2008, while 62 percent of Cracker Barrel restaurants were in counties carried by John McCain.”
Now that explains why I always feel so uneasy when occasionally shopping at Whole Foods. As a self described Republican church goer, I look around at the other shoppers and know instinctively these are not my people.
But they ARE MY PEOPLE, they are Americans and we all, myself included, had better find some common ground, fast, so we can encourage our leaders to compromise, and save our nation from economic ruin. Or we might as well peacefully divide our nation into the Liberal States of America and the Conservative States of America before it gets really nasty.
Our one nation “under God” (inserted into our Pledge of Allegiance by President Eisenhower in 1954 to further distinguish America from those Godless commies) is growing so polarized by cultural, social, religious, political and economic divides, asking our leaders to compromise at any level of government is becoming nearly impossible.
Even Standard and Poor’s alluded to our political divide as one of the reasons given for their historic credit rating downgrade stating, "More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened…”
This is surely a sign that we must get our act together, come together or else. But can we? The last time our nation was united was on September 11th, 2001.
Now, symbolic of our national discord, as we inch closer to the 10th year anniversary of that tragic day, a group called American Atheists are suing to keep the “World Trade Center cross”, those steel beams shaped like a cross, famously found amid the rubble, from being permanently displayed at the September 11th Memorial and Museum.
Let’s hope we don’t ever have to endure another cataclysmic attack in order for us to become united again. But realistically, our Divided State of America looks like it’s here to stay whether the issue is over a cross or the national debt ceiling.
For example, within my own politically divided family, we can not even talk about politics without the discussion ending in a shouting match. I refuse to compromise about what I hold dear and they feel exactly the same.
Then is it any wonder why in Washington the word compromise has become a dirty word? It now means that your side has wimped out. And because the word has such negative connotations, Washington without compromise will remain paralyzed and it will stay that way as long as Americans are polarized.
That unfortunately means our nation is incapable of solving any of its pressing problems, thus hastening our decline and stature in the world.
Remember the phrase, "a house divided against itself can not stand,” where Lincoln famously quoted Jesus from the Bible?
Well, that wisdom still rings true today. So whether you feel more comfortable attributing that phrase to Lincoln or Jesus, all Americans must encourage their leaders to heed those words and compromise in order to save our nation -- even while “we the people” continue to further “self segregate,” and choose to live in the Divided State of America.