In these days of disturbingly polarized politics, it might seem that the only truly safe subject to discuss with neighbors, relatives and a sundry acquaintances is the weather. At least that’s what I thought.
In the current national climate, however, even a seemingly innocent conversation about meteorological conditions can head south real fast when the mere mention of an unexpected heat wave or snow storm takes a sudden and unintended segue to the topic of global climate change. Trust me, I speak from experience on this one. While anonymous tweeters hurl increasingly hostile insults and aspersions across a bottomless divide, liberals on one side, conservatives on the other, there is not even a rickety rope bridge in sight to help them meet in the middle; so much for political discourse and common sense in 2016.
This probably sounds corny, but what I really love about this country is our differences. My grandfather was an Italian immigrant with a third grade education who labored in the anthracite mines of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Half of my family are Republicans, half are Democrats, half are Catholic, half are Protestant. Some are hunters, some hate guns. All are opinionated. I am married to a Jew. I was privileged to work for many years in a Quaker school whose mission strives to respect all cultures, races, genders, religions and ethnicities. I love all of this. I love that I am fortunate enough to live in a country where we are pretty much free to do what we want as long as we don’t hurt others, to worship in our chosen faith or not worship at all, to agree or disagree on which politician or ideas we support and hopefully, to choose the bathroom we want to use and maybe, most importantly, to argue passionately with each other about all of these things over Thanksgiving dinner (after, of course, we have had a few drinks and exhausted all possible weather related conversation).
But, I really hate what has been growing and thriving in our political discourse. I don’t think I am being overly dramatic to say I’m frightened. I hate that one candidate in particular makes less than subtle claims designed to appeal to our biases and fears. It’s so easy and just too simple to blame all our problems on those who are different than us, those who come from a different place, those who worship a different God, those who happen to wear a different color skin, choose a different partner or speak a different language. If history has taught us anything, let us agree that hate-filled speech against a particular group of people, any group, can result in evil of unimaginable proportions. It’s disturbing that some of the loudest voices in this presidential season seem the ones filled with the most hate and the least courage of their convictions. It is not difficult to strike out at someone while safely hidden behind the anonymity of a faceless twitter account. Those who choose to cloak themselves this way do not represent the best of us. Add to this vitriol-laden brew, a heavy dose of congressional leaders unable or unwilling to make even the smallest common sense compromises on the important issues of our day. Paralyzed by their own self-interest, their financial dependence on powerful interest groups and the increased polarization and intractable positioning of their constituencies (that’s us guys), they no longer function in the interest of the electorate (that’s us too) or quite importantly the country as a whole.
But before we retreat into our Reality TV shows and lay total blame at the feet of the “politicians in Washington”, let’s take a good look in the mirror. Many of us are simply not doing our job as citizens and, thus, the old adage “you get what you deserve”. The voting rate in this country is abysmal, 58.2% of all eligible voters participated in the 2012 Presidential election (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-p-mcdonald/turnout-in-the-2012-presi_b_2663122.html). What’s more when we do vote, we often do not take the time to educate ourselves on the issues. Many of us watch or subscribe to media that support or reinforce our own viewpoint. Facts are becoming less and less relevant to political discourse. We are easily corralled into opposing camps by slanted sound bites from these same media outlets that like the candidates themselves regard their own survival as a priority. The whole thing is just one big depressing mess.
So what’s my point? Maybe, it’s that I believe that bad things happen when good people do nothing. Maybe, I think we should work harder at being an informed electorate. Maybe a lot more of us should vote. Maybe the news media should do a better job talking about the issues and informing the public. Maybe, I’m just really, really tired of only be able to talk about the weather.
(In my humble opinion, the PBS Newshour from 6-7 pm does an impressive job of exploring the issues in depth and from different perspectives).