Disagreeing without being disagreeable
Nearly halfway into President Trump’s first term, there are some who might say that America today is more polarized than at any time in its history. And this goes beyond mere partisan disagreements, or bickering, regarding any number of subjects – taxes, health care, immigration, education – or even more fundamentally, the role of government itself.
Although many Americans are divided on the issues today, the fact is we have always been. Going back to the election of 1824, no president has ever been elected with more than about 60 percent of the American people’s support. It is expected (and encouraged) that Americans will disagree on what candidate should occupy the highest office in the land, but that alone doesn’t necessarily mean that America is polarized, which is altogether more sinister to our Union. Here’s what I mean:
You see, the polarization of America is defined by the extent to which public opinion is divided into the extremes, often encouraged by factions, within a political party, or by special interest. The casualties of a polarized nation are those moderate voices in the middle, which often lose much of their power and influence within the political process.
But in 2016, these moderate voices (sometimes referred to as the “silent majority”) reclaimed their power and influence, just long enough to elect Donald Trump as president, defying the conventional wisdom of those “who knew better.”
And ever since, “those who knew better” have strained their minds, wrung their hands, pulled out their hair and lost countless nights of sleep trying to explain what happened in the 2016 election. In fact, the coverage of President Trump by the “Big Three” broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — has remained 91 percent negative.
It’s almost as if the media is working off the same script and afraid to report any thought, idea or reality that is outside their own confusion. For example, if you’re a reporter, and your circle of contemporaries believe that President Trump is racist, sexist, greedy, heartless and elitist, then it would strain credulity for you to report anything else, right?
And this is much of what is polarizing our country.
It’s why comedian Kathy Griffin thought it would be a good idea to pose with the bloodied, severed head of Donald Trump, and yet she still sold out her show at Carnegie Hall within 24 hours. Or why a crowd of marchers in Washington, D.C., erupted in applause when Madonna said that she’s "thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House."
You see, partisanship is healthy in a free society because it promotes the debate of ideas.
Polarization, on the other hand, is more about silencing ideas with which you disagree. It dehumanizes those whose opinions are different than yours, and doesn’t allow compromise, whatsoever.
But a great example of the difference between being partisan or polarizing is the recent re-boot of the television show “Roseanne,” which continues to draw a record number of viewers, more than anyone expected. While many say that “Roseanne” is a mouthpiece for conservatives and the millions of Americans who were so backwardly hillbilly-ignorant to vote for Trump, the show’s success is really a good example of how to disagree without being disagreeable.
Actor Rob Lowe saw it immediately and tweeted, “The secret to [Roseanne’s] massive ratings is that it celebrates people with huge political differences who are able to laugh and love together as they passionately disagree."
But we don’t do that any more, do we?
How can you “laugh and love together” as a liberal if you believe every conservative would like to reinstate segregation, pollute the drinking water and take food out of the mouths of starving children? How can you “passionately disagree” as a conservative if you believe every liberal only wants to grow the government, then tax the rich and weaken our military?
So whichever side of the aisle you may sit or stand, it is more important than ever that we return to a healthy partisanship, not polarization, and come together as one nation, under God, and indivisible.
You see, a divided America only encourages our enemies and weakens our courage, and yet, we have Democrats traveling to foreign countries and disparaging the American voter, latenight talk show hosts demeaning the president and the First Lady, and a press corps that focuses on our differences and the trivial, rather than those principles that bind us together as a nation.
And Abraham Lincoln was right: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” This was a valuable and costly lesson of history, and the real question is why aren’t more of us heeding it?
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac. com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.