The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily of the Davis Clipper
I have no empirical evidence, no scientific studies, not survey research, but...I have the gnawing feeling that Americans are becoming more contentious and disagreeable when it comes to differing opinions.
It is one thing to have Blue States and Red States on the political spectrum. It is quite another to surround yourself with “think alike” friends and talk radio personalities, subsequently dismissing other opinions as idiotic, juvenile, naive, or dangerous.
A frequent dinner partner and friend often disagrees with me on political and social issues. Last week, for instance, he told me he finds “leaker-in-exile” Edward Snowden admirable. I countered that I saw Snowden as an egocentric traitor whose leaks may have placed American lives in jeopardy. (Another friend I highly respect took me to task as well; he thinks Snowden has done the country a public service.)
The two of us can disagree on Snowden, but neither would call the other ignorant. I can understand where he is coming from and he can do the same about me. Neither of us gets angry and we often joke about how we cancel out each other’s vote at the ballot box.
Yet I believe a growing number of people have difficulty discussing views civilly. We saw it in Congress recently when ultra-conservatives refused to compromise and drew lines in the partisan sands, and we hear it when Sen. Harry Reid makes “over the top” accusations.
One national analyst blames the divide partially on Newt Gingrich’s call to congressmen to return home on weekends instead of going to social functions and church services with fellow representatives, thereby creating a wall between colleagues. Others blame it on sarcasm from the right (Limbaugh, Hannity, Miller) and the left (MSNBC).
I believe some of it comes from redistricting, making “safe seats” for elected officials of both political parties. Rather than communities with dialogue, we have neighborhoods where people too often think alike. (No way will a Republican win in Salt Lake’s Avenues! Hell will freeze over when a Democrat wins an election in Utah County!)
The problem with the divide is that too many issues are not black and white. Pres. Obama’s exchange of five Taliban supporters for Idaho soldier, Bowe Bergdahl is a perfect example of an incident that should be carefully, not shrilly, argued.
I personally disagree with the President’s action. I’m a believer that the swap will only put more U.S. soldiers in jeopardy. On the other hand, I can understand the argument that the U.S. has historically exchanged prisoners and the military emphasizes that it doesn’t leave captive soldiers stranded.
We should have a nation talking to itself about the pros and cons of the President’s actions. Instead, I’ve heard too much partisan barking about Bergdahl being a deserter and unworthy of any exchange. (Time magazine’s cover asked, “Was He Worth It?” Well, he certainly was to his parents – and the jury is still out on how he was captured and his opinion on America’s presence in Afghanistan.)
I do draw a line. I won’t discuss issues with bigots and it’s foolish to have any serious conversations with people who don’t read or follow current events. But there is value in talking with people expressing different views and even values than ones you hold. Who knows? We just might learn something.