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The Lowest Extremities

September 5, 2014

My wife and I recently had a conversation with two of our teenagers about the dismal state of American politics, which I rarely discuss with anyone these days, even though I majored in Political Science back in college. Not that such a course of study makes me more qualified to have such a discussion — it most certainly doesn’t — but having once been interested enough in the topic to spend four years focused on it (actually five, if I’m being completely honest) would seem to suggest a willingness on my part to more frequently discuss politics.

Alas, this is the social media age, where every word posted on Twitter or Facebook is immediately scrutinized, judged, and — if not completely aligned with that particular reader’s entire viewpoint — attacked. Anyone who dares to disagree in the slightest on even the smallest point is instantly branded a dangerous heretic or an imminent threat. This appears to be a direct byproduct of the intense partisanship that currently permeates Washington, D.C., and which has led to the demise of civil discourse.

The two-party system has been in place for well over a century, yet only over the past two decades has the divide between the Democrats and Republicans become so deep and bitter. With each passing year, the rancor and vitriol becomes increasingly hostile. The chasm is now so great, the middle ground has completely eroded. All that remains on the ideological spectrum is the far left and far right.

Somewhere along the way, independent thought became viewed as weakness. To be truly considered a Democrat, you must be unyieldingly liberal, and to be truly considered a Republican, you must be unflinchingly conservative. Any view held by the other side must be immediately opposed, dismissed, rejected, and repudiated as treasonous heresy. Strength can only come from a complete and total alignment of opinion. Dissent is anathema.

As a result, it has become virtually impossible to engage anyone in a reasoned discussion about anything even remotely political. Every single topic, regardless of significance, is now a hot button issue requiring a stance be immediately and definitively taken on one side or the other. All that exists is black and white. Gray is but a distant memory.

That’s why I typically avoid discussing politics, but when our kids wondered aloud who we thought might be the next President, my wife and I considered it a perfect opportunity to try and start reversing the trend of belligerent political discourse in this country by openly engaging the next generation in a civil and respectful manner.

We talked with them about how the two-party system is antiquated and broken, which has caused a level of government gridlock so impenetrable that it severely handicaps the effectiveness of whoever sits in the office — regardless of whether that person is a Democrat or Republican. Each of the past two Presidents — Barack Obama and George W. Bush — have been criticized to the point of villainy by their opposition in Congress, who uses their power to serve as an obstruction to democracy, rather than the conduit they were elected to be.

But most of all, we emphasized to both our 16-year-old son and our 14-year-old daughter the importance of thinking for themselves, rather than simply falling in lockstep with either extreme of the ideological spectrum. Each man and woman in this great country of ours should be free to make their own informed decisions, without feeling any societal pressure to align with one side or the other. A party platform is not sacrosanct, nor should it be viewed as a guide for living one’s life.

Show respect for others to hold opinions which differ from your own. The fact that someone disagrees with you does not make them wrong. Simply because someone has an opposing viewpoint does not mean they are a bad person. This line of thinking has to stop, or this country is doomed. We are capable of peacefully coexisting, despite our differences. That is the very freedom upon which America was founded. Let’s all please try and remember that the next time we engage with someone whose opinion differs from our own.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. shinola permalink
    September 5, 2014 6:31 pm

    You are so dead on Joan Rivers could stamp it. We have all extremes in politics when most people are in the middle. We don’t want war but know sometimes it is necessary. Nobody loves abortion and most wish it didn’t occur but most would be at the clinic if their kid were a rape victim. I think most people are fine with Michael Sam playing for the Cowboys if he can make tackles. Nobody likes taxes and we hate people who suck from the system. Most think there is good and bad in both parties. Only Hannity and Alec Baldwin think their side is perfect. Some day the silent 88% is gonna get fed up with the whackos on both extremes. But we all hate Darlie Routier and Kim Kardashian. We should build from that.

    • September 5, 2014 7:18 pm

      Amen, NTG! I look forward to your touching off-mic tribute to Joan R.

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