Posts Tagged With: polarization of society

A HOUSE DIVIDED

In 1858, in a speech Abe Lincoln gave before a Republican convention that would nominate him for the Illinois Senate race, (an election he would lose, by the way), Lincoln proclaimed the following phrase that would live in history: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was, of course, talking about the issue of slavery which had so polarized the country, that civil war would break out almost immediately after he was elected President 2 years later. A civil war that would claim the lives of over 600,000 Americans, or the equivalent of 6 million with today’s population. The 1858 Senatorial race was between Lincoln and his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas who would win the election, and it resulted in the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates, which were mostly about the slavery issue. The same 2 squared off for the presidency 2 years later, and as we all know, Lincoln was the victor in that campaign. The relevance to today’s landscape, however, is that this country is more polarized and divided, as well as mired in dysfunction, as it has been at any time since those historical events more than 150 years ago. So let us examine the different ways that the country is split into ever growing fault lines.

Let’s start with the difference between rural and city life in America, today. That’s relevant because voters in small town America tend to vote heavily for Republicans, while metropolitan areas vote Democratic almost as heavily. That Red State-Blue State thingy. It all comes down to a question of values. People living in rural, small town-America tend to be more religious and self-protectionist. It’s a matter of tradition. Bibles and guns are the mainstay of most people living in the country-side. They have been raised to believe in a literal translation of both the old and new testaments, and no force on Earth can shake the foundations of those beliefs. Of course gay marriage should be prohibited since homosexuality is a sin. It says so, loud and clear, in the bible. Likewise, all abortions should be banned, since only God can take a human life. (Although, interestingly, all these anti-abortionists seem to have no trouble with the government executing criminals.) And it’s rather difficult to pinpoint a biblical passage that strictly forbids abortions. Not that any of that matters, since most religious beliefs come from sermons being preached in churches across the nation by priests that apparently have an insider’s pipeline to God’s desires.

As for the guns part of bibles and guns-wasn’t Jesus packing heat when he gave his famous sermon on the mount. Besides, doesn’t everyone know that our immoral, communistic, atheistic government would throw us all into concentration camps without hesitation, if we didn’t maintain our own guns. And not just a handgun, but an entire arsenal of weaponry. So goes the thinking over much of rural America. Such are the beliefs that one in indoctrinated with while growing up in this country environment. Young people being raised in this setting, if they are sharper, more industrious, and more ambitious, will often leave these small towns for metropolitan areas where they have much greater economic, cultural, and entertainment opportunities. Those that stay behind are usually more content to lead the same lives as their parents did, and inherit the same set of doctrines and dogma. Thus, the Republican Party, which goes out of its way to cater to religious evangelicals, or bible thumpers, as I would call them, reaps the lion’s share of the vote in rural America.

Living in big cities almost forces people to become more tolerant. While rural America is almost solidly white, metropolitan areas usually consist of a mix of whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Moslems, Jews, etc. Gays are just as likely to be living in the apartment next to yours as are heterosexuals. If one is to live well in big city life, the dogma of demonizing homosexuals, or other religions or races, or women having an abortion, necessarily must become a thing of the past. Hence, city dwellers become less attached the the religious dogma they may have been raised with, and increasingly become more secular and more tolerant. They will then mostly vote for Democrats who are more in tune with their secular beliefs.

One can also look at the great political divide in this country as between white men and the rest of the populace. White men (and often married white women) tend to vote mostly Republican, because they feel their privileged status in American society is being taken away from them. With black, Hispanic and Asian populations seemingly on the increase, older white men and women believe that a time will come in the not too distant future, when they will no longer be able to call the shots. Then all these minorities will become the dominant voting bloc, which, in turn, will greatly increase government handouts and welfare payments to people too lazy and shiftless to fend for themselves. Or so goes their thinking. Thus, the GOP, which is continually trying to significantly cut the food stamp program, housing assistance, or health insurance benefits, is the party for them. Democrats tend to exhibit more empathy for for minorities or those in need of financial help. This doesn’t sit well with the current white majority.

The thing about our current political divide is that it is increasingly hardening. Less and less is there any room for political compromise, or a meeting of the minds. In this November’s election, if the GOP gains control of both the House and the Senate, with a liberal Democrat in the White House, today’s dysfunction and polarization will seem like a minor spat between family members. And all political pundits are predicting that Republicans will win big time. Then we will truly become a house divided against itself, as Lincoln warned 150 years ago. And we all know how well that turned out last time.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

FINALLY OVER

At long last, it’s finally coming to an end. Today is the final day we’ll have to put up with all those vile, obnoxious, mudslinging TV ads; all the mendacious junk mail assaulting  our mailboxes every day advocating for every candidate from state assemblyman to president; and all the equally vile and obnoxious attack phone calls invading the privacy of our homes. The phone calls got so bad that I have had to unplug the phone in our bedroom when we turned in for the night. I was getting calls before 5 A.M or after 11 at night; probably from East Coast campaign workers oblivious to the 3- hour difference between Eastern and Pacific Coast times. But, as I’ve said, what started well over a year ago, finally comes to it’s conclusion tonight.

I do have to admit that I sort of miss the-carnival-is-coming-to-town atmosphere of the Republican debates that began in 2011. There, up-on-stage were the carnival actors or clowns if you prefer. There was the dingbat element represented by Michele Bachman and wacky Ricky Santorum, the old crank that was Ron Paul, rotund Newt the Lovable, the bible thumper Rick Perry, and, of course, His Mittness, who by appearing to act with some clarity and sanity out-lasted all of them and secured the Republican nomination, and is now on the very edge of becoming our next president. There was also one other candidate, Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah. But his problem was that he spoke with such common sense and rationality, that Republican primary voters just couldn’t handle someone that didn’t feed into their world of delusion. Therefore Huntsman wasn’t able to gain any traction, and finally had to drop out of the race. Those were the fun days of the 2012 election, but now it has become a colossal and nauseating drag.

If nothing else, however, this election has richly displayed both the coarsening and polarization of modern-day America. The mean-spirited venom that has spewed forth from from each candidate and their surrogates, from president, to congressional, and to state and local races speaks to both social conditions. First, there is the mind-boggling $3 billion that will have been spent on all these candidates when it finally ends tomorrow. How many hungry people in the world could that $3 billion have fed; how much infrastructure, water or sewer pipes, electrical grids, roads and bridges, etc. could that money have built or repaired. When you think of all the good that money could have been used for versus the garbage ads some of you may be removing from your mailboxes even as I type this, you can only conclude-what a waste. About $2 billion of that amount will have gone into the presidential race where both men are now so hopelessly compromised and beholden to their fat-cat donors, that it’s hard to see how anything meaningful can be accomplished for the rest of the country.

The polarization of America can be seen in the fact that a day before the election, all polls show the race to be a 50-50 toss-up. About half the electorate believes the answer to our huge problems is to severely slash Government spending (except for  military spending),  and cut tax rates that will primarily benefit the rich, while the other half believes that Government is needed to help the poor, the sick, the unemployed and the elderly. Half believes that we should edge toward a Christian theocracy by banning abortion and gay rights and gay marriage, while the other half maintains that we should hold onto a secular society. There appears to be no meeting of the minds or a desire for compromise on either side. So even if Romney wins tomorrow (as I suspect he will) it will be a divided nation with a divided Government. The Democrats will have at least as many Senators as needed to mount a successful filibuster, which could throw a monkey wrench into a President Romney’s agenda. If Obama should manage to squeak out a victory the same would hold true for the Republicans ability to filibuster in the Senate. In the the end we are likely to have a Government that barely muddles through the process of governing and achieves nothing meaningful.

A good example of the coarsening of America could be seen after the 2008 elections. After it was clear that Obama was the victor, there was a huge run on gun stores to purchase as many guns and as much ammo  as people could stuff into their trucks. Now buying a gun is not like buying a loaf of bread. A gun goes for around $500 a pop and can increase in cost into the thousands. Yet millions of people, most of them of modest means, were buying firearms as if they were loaves of bread. In their minds, with the Democrats in power, tanks would soon be rolling down their streets, with armed military going door-to-door, and taking away everyone’s firearms. These people would be defenseless, and then soon shipped off to concentration camps if they opposed the administration. Of course, the gun mentality is just one example of the coarsening of our society. Everything from the degradation of our pop culture to the lack of civility in our everyday dealings with one another, to the lack of compassion in the way we treat the less fortunate among us, to the growing superficiality and shallowness among the populace, bespeaks to the constant dumbing down and coarsening of American society. And now with society so highly polarized, that trend seems to be going in a steady stream downhill.

One last thing. The worst possible outcome in tomorrow’s election would be if the voting was so evenly divided, especially in the swing states, that no winner could be readily ascertained. Counts and recounts could drag on for days or even weeks, with both sides fighting vociferously to get their guy declared the winner. The election results could even wind up for the courts to decide, the way the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, granted George Bush the winner over Al Gore in the 2000 election. If something like that were to happen, imagine the bitterness and hostility that would emanate from the losing side. It would result in polarization on steroids.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.