What has happened to us?

What has happened to us? January 19, 2012

 

If there is one thing we can all agree on in the American political sphere, it’s that we are a divided nation.  Sure, our divisions grow more conspicuous going into an election year, but we all know they’ve been there well before the pre-election hype began to take over our national consciousness.  As soon as we begin to ask what is at the root of these divisions, however, the question unfolds into a daunting tangle of related questions.  When and how did we become so hopelessly polarized?  Or are we simply exaggerating the uniqueness of our time, just as people in every age are wont to do?  Has it always been this bad?  When did partisan gridlock and brinkmanship become such a commonplace occurrence?  How did the parties come to be so ruled by fear of their cartoonishly villainous caricatures of each other?  And why oh why does the tea party have such sway?  And, of course, everyone’s favorite: who is to blame for the mess we’re in?

As a staunch political independent, I cannot, nor do I wish to, take the default partisan recourse of blaming the nearest president from the opposing party.  As naive as it sounds in retrospect, both Bush and Obama began their presidencies with great bipartisan promise – including, from what I understand, some decent track records to back it up.  And both presidencies have proven to be insanely polarizing.  On one level, it is sort of a perverse testimony to the effectiveness of our political system that our public discourse can become so vitriolic without degenerating into large-scale physical violence, but on the other hand, we are deluding ourselves if we assume that unless our violence is physical, it’s not really violence.  I suspect I’m not alone in getting the feeling that something – beyond generic invocations of human fallenness – is deeply wrong. 

Maybe we’ve undergone a genuine socio-political tectonic shift, or maybe it was just the coming-of-age disillusionment that everyone experiences when they begin to be politically aware (I welcome input on this from those with a longer lifetime’s perspective), but it feels to me like at some point in the not-too-distant past, something in the atmosphere changed.  Was it the 2000 Bush/Gore election controversy?  But Bush did manage to give us a post-inaugural honeymoon in his early months, and his pre-war personage as President Malaprop was oddly endearing.  Was it the “war on terror” and post-9/11 backlash?  But the immediate bellicosity at that time was originally less controversial than perhaps it should have been.  Was it the superhuman expectations put on Obama, and the subsequent disappointment when he did not turn out to be the messianic harbinger of a new era?  But I’ve gotten the impression at times that he’s been burning himself out trying to make a conciliatory approach to politics work in a system that already had no room for it.  But I’ve also gotten the impression that there has been disconcertingly little real difference between him and Bush in terms of the implementation of policies that respect human dignity, or fail to…

Beyond this amateurish flailing around in my young political memory, I can’t put my finger on what is really at the root of the deep national illness that seems to be plaguing us.  Maybe it (whatever “it” is) has roots going much further back in our national history.  Who knows?  I sure don’t. 

The closest I can come to any kind of answer is my growing suspicion that most if not all human sin, whether personal or social, is rooted in fear.  So maybe the question to be asking is, what is the fear that we – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and Americans of all stripes – are so enslaved to?  On this point, I remain at a loss.

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  • CT Michael

    I think that the polarization is due to increased levels of fear that many, many people across the spectrum feel..and justifiably so. It is a fear based on the intuition that they are on a ship that has hit a shoal and is taking on water…fast…to the degree that their happy journey to better times and a constant, ever more abundant (material) future is over. External crazed menace of any sort doesn’t help much with the general level of anxiety. The loss of the stability with the collapse of the bipolar Cold War World into seeming anarchy where no one is in a position to “be in charge” just makes it all look all the more uncertain and scary. The R’s use all of this to scare the H*** out of their people so they can get back the keys to the car the just crashed (2000-2008) to drive it off the cliff of “restore greatness”. Meanwhile the D’s try to assuage their based that all their promises can be kept (pay no attention to that debt behind the curtain) if we just tax the rich more (appropriate for justice’s sake if nothing else) and hit up Wall Street stashes and the off-shore shore corporate parked earnings (reasonable patriotic justice once again). But the numbers don’t add up and are being eroded every day by the Euro meltdown etc. So both are fantasy. We need new arrangements and models to adjust to inevitable anarchic scarcity..(see “peak” this and that) and nobody is saying any of that for fear or bursting anyone’s fraudulently inflated balloons. Our response here at Vox and Christ’s Church needs to be to build, and spread and grow the Faith that repeats to us over and over and over again in the words of Our Lord…”be not afraid” and “love one another”. Nothing else I can see on the horizon can help us any more than this can. Looking to our political “leaders” at this stage is fruitless. They are mostly followers, and panderers and power addicts that are not up to the task at hand. We need to change the culture that they feel compelled to pander TO. The “New Evangelization” constantly spoken of but not acted on with any urgency by our Church is more critical for this long national passion play than we, or its framers, can ever really imagine.

  • addicted

    I know I will sound “partisan” here, but reality is that this is “divisiveness” is driven solely by one side of the political spectrum.

    1) Yeah, Bush started with Bipartisan promise. However, that is hard not to do when you are hit by the greatest tragedy in US history since Pearl Harbor. He used that unifying moment to lie to Americans to fight in the Iraq War. This is “liberals”‘s biggest complaint against him, and its clear as day its a valid complaint. And lets not forget his party using stimulus arguments to give massive tax cuts to the rich.
    2) On the other hand, the biggest complaint Republicans have against Obama (i.e., the half that are not completely off the deep end, calling him an atheist islamofascist Kenyan Manchurian candidate) is he passed “Obamacare”. Lets recap. “Obamacare” is a more CONSERVATIVE version of the healthcare system proposed by the Newt Gingrich led republican congress in the mid 90’s. It is almost an exact replica of the healthcare bill implemented by the current Republican Presidential candidate frontrunner Mitt Romney.

    A significant plurality of 1 half of the american political discourse has gone off the deep end. This is not partisan clamorings, but unfortunate reality.

    • Julia Smucker

      “Solely by one side”, really??? And what are you doing?

      In referring to Bush’s bipartisan promise, I meant before he became the Wartime President. I’ve heard that he had earned considerable popularity for bipartisan work as governor of Texas. It was after 9/11 that he became so polarizing, and yes, grossly misused the tragedy for political and hegemonic ends – no argument from me there. I also agree with you about healthcare, and I will even acknowledge that a large portion of the Republican party does seem to have gone off the deep end (a few of its members and sympathizers have said as much). But I have seen enough mailings and online petitions exhorting me to stop the evil greedy Republicans from their sins against humanity, and heard enough “crazy Republicans” comments in casual conversation, to know that the hyperpartisan vitriol is not solely one-sided. Whether we prefer to point fingers at the pompous talking heads at Fox News or the pompous talking heads at MSNBC, both are part of the problem, and it helps nothing to argue about who is worse. That was exactly the opposite of the intent of this post.

      • Rodak

        @ Julia —

        In defense of the “solely by one side” argument made above, while it is true that both sides are biased in support of a particular ideological bent and, therefore, equally to blame for the societal division to that extent, a strong argument can be made, imo, that the conservative side is much more guilty of using disinformation and outright lies in the attempt to sell its point of view to the public than is the left. I think perhaps this is where the “solely” becomes plausibly legitimate.

      • Julia Smucker

        Rodak, that argument can indeed be made, but even if there is truth to it, is it ultimately very helpful? What we need to be doing is trying to get behind the fear or whatever it is that is motivating all this garbage, and we will never get there by tallying up scores to prove which side is guiltier.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Julia,

        I agree that the vitriol is not all one-sided: I remember thoughtless partisan comments from the left dating back to the Reagan era. We had a lot to disagree with him on (let’s start with the Contras and go from there) but too much of the criticism from the left was nasty and personal and had too little to do with policies and ideology.

        Having said that, I would caution you against treating both sides equally and with balance. I think things are out of kilter, and I suspect (though I cannot articulate clearly why) that left and right are drawn to this nasty partisanship for different reasons.

      • addicted

        Julia, while you are absolutely correct that there are a lot of “crazy” left-wing ideologues (e.g. 9/11 truthers), the difference lies in a matter of scale, and importance.

        The difference is that the left-wing “establishment” is hardly affected by this. How many Democratic congressmen admitted to 9/11 truthism? OTOH, Republican politicians of all stripes, from state legislatures right up to the Senate, have accussed Obama of being a Marxist-Kenyan-Muslim.

        There will always be crazy people of all political stripes. However, the Republicans have allowed their party to be taken over by them (as evidenced by the fact that they are turning down what used to be central planks of the right-wing movement less than a decade ago…ignoring healthcare, which is the big one, just look at the Republicans fighting against Payroll Tax cuts).

        There are partisans on the left also. However, the degree of importance the partisans on the right have gained has exploded in the last few years in a way it hasnt on the left since probably the 60’s.

      • Julia Smucker

        I don’t disagree on the problem of the mainstreaming of violence in the Republican Party. But we can never overcome violence by remaining stuck in the blame game. To break out of this vicious cycle will require some radically new order of business.

  • Andrew

    Hi Julia, great post.

    The increasing divisiveness in our country is a topic that is addressed in the book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. It is worth reading in its entirety, but the quick summary is that because people have more mobility in where they live and whom they interact with, that it is easier and easier not to interact with anyone with whom they disagree. As a result, society as a whole becomes more polarized. They have actual data suggesting greater political polarization from the 70’s to today.

  • When Clinton was elected, the so-called “conservatives” in America (who, with their intense devotion to radical individualism, whether of the economically “libertarian” sort, or of the radically belief-focused Protestant fundamentalist sort, aren’t “conservative” at all, according to any other political tradition) opined, en masse, that it signified the victory of the “free-wheeling morality of the 60s.” The embrace, by the youth of the 60s, of “free-love,” non-Western forms of spirituality, psychodelic, “mind-expanding” drugs (Huxley and Leary insisted that those drugs did exactly that), the ready acceptance of homosexuality, etc. etc., combined with profound American ignorance of their own and others’ histories (ignorance, for example, of how novel the “unit-family” is, in history, and of how it’s mainly an adaptation to the economic needs of an industrial society, and not “Biblical” or “traditional” at all; ignorance of how easily acceptable polygamy, for example, is in many “traditional” societies; ignorance, for example, of how deeply anti-Catholic the “Founding Fathers” were)–all of this contributed to creating a public response of panicked fear of the post-modern, and of the necessary adjustment needed to develop into a post-modern society whose economy actually CREATES unemployment and overly-challenging leisure. The American people are terrified of the changes time has wrought, and the truly vicious politicians who nowadays govern the country are able to employ that fear to manipulate the masses. NONE of the present crop of leaders, Obama included, has sufficient faith in the people’s judgment or benevolence to inspire them to trust each other and work together to solve problems There’s not a statesman in sight who dares to tell the people the truth–that they’re in a transitional stage of human history, in which the choices they make MUST be made in a spirit of love, compassion and truth, if the looming holocaust is to be avoided, and that the social Darwinism that radical free-market capitalism is based on cannot sustain survival. My own strong sense of this has motivated me, personally, to leave the United States forever.

  • Rodak

    Julia — I don’t know how old you are. You write so well that I would have taken you for a mature adult, if guessing based on the way you express your thoughts. Be that as it may, I may well be the oldest person regularly reading and commenting here. Certainly I am among the oldest. I well remember the divisions made apparent by (or caused by) the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s. I remember the Cuban missile crisis. I vividly remember, and was directly affected by, the divisions caused by the war in Vietnam. I remember the national despair over Watergate–which was arguably the death of our national innocence. But what I do not remember is any time at which things seemed to be so hopeless to so many people.
    I think you rightly identify fear as the basis of this hopeless feeling. I believe that the fear is caused by the death (or absconding) of our highest national god: Mammon. There is a sense that the era of American prosperity is over, and that it is not ever going to come back to what it was.
    During the civil rights strife, during Vietnam, at the height of Watergate, people may have been angered and disturbed by what was going on, but they were never really afraid for America’s position in the world. Americans are in the grip of an existential fear. And it is not caused by the miniscule threats posed by Muslim terrorists. It is caused by the realization that “the American Dream” was exactly that–a dream. And the true nightmare is the waking state. The partisan hostility is caused by conservatives and liberals alike realizing that they can’t resuscitate that which has died; each side blaming the other for the loss; neither side having a clue as to where to turn next.
    If we can’t, as a nation, have back what we’ve lost, we need to find a new paradigm. We need to be open to suggestions.

    • Julia Smucker

      Well, I think I would qualify as a “mature adult” by now; by referencing my age I was trying to think like a Catholic from within my limited framework, acknowledging that my political memory is not extensive enough to give me a longer or more broadly historical view. Bush II was elected shortly after I started college, and Clinton was elected as I was entering adolescence, and that’s basically as far back as it goes. That’s why I appreciate your astute observations here. I think the major problem is that we’re using political opponents as scapegoats for a much deeper fear, without addressing what is really at the root of it, and this is why I believe it vital to figure out what that is. You may be on to something about the death of Mammon and the dissipation of the American Dream.

  • The US bishops just got Pope Benedict’s analysis of the problem:

    “At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.”

    But was there ever really such a consensus about the moral good in this country? Our early history leading up to the Civil War suggests not, and the politics that followed that war were more rancorous by far than politics today. Still, I think the pope makes a good point: our Protestant-inspired civil religion has eroded to the point that today it is no longer taken seriously even as a rhetoric, and its only replacement has been a highly individualistic form of consumerism even in the realm of values.

    • Julia Smucker

      The Pope’s analysis sounds uncomfortably like the very culture-warring rhetoric of Protestant-inspired civil religion, complete with the “faith of the fathers” narrative. But knowing Pope Benedict’s analyses to be generally much better nuanced than that, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that the way it sounds to my American ears is not really the point he intended to make. I do sometimes wonder, though, about his ability to know his audience.

  • Ronald King

    I must leave quickly, so I will make it quick. We have always been polarized and now we are more vocal about it since “my generation” dared to stand against an authoritarian approach to child-rearing and socialization. I have a lot more to say but this is good that the darkness is coming out of the closet because it shows how ugly we have been with each other behind our backs and theirs for centuries. “We must know our hate before we can love.”

  • Thales

    Good comments from everyone.

    My first reaction to the question, like some of the commenters, is that division has always been around, and that it actually has been worse at times in the past. Sure, things are rancorous now, but consider the rancor that culminated in the violence and deaths from the riots and protests during the Vietnam and Civil Rights years. Nothing in the last couple of decades has risen to that level. And consider the rancor during the Civil War, where, literally, family member fought against family member.

    But my second reaction is that Andrew might be correct: that with the advent of the Internet, Twitter, social networking, it is easier to be polarized now than in the past. I just read a Chesterton essay related to this topic (written back on Feb. 11, 1905, in the Daily News, reprinted in the Sept.2011 issue of Gilbert Magazine). Some excerpts:

    “The truth is that the narrowest of all narrowness in social intercourse is only possible in a large community full of what we call large ideas. And the reason is obvious. In a vast and miscellaneous society people have a choice of associates which enables them in the long run to live almost entirely with those who resemble them, or at any rate with whom they sympathise…. A vast place like London ought, no doubt, to mean a place so vast and varied that we find in it plenty of people to contradict and enlighten us. But in practical life it really means a place so vast and varied that we can easily collect in it an assortment of lunatics who will agree with every word we say…. In a large modern society we have, as I say, positively unrivaled opportunities of selecting, testing, and finally taking to our bosoms persons proved in the furnace to be as silly as ourselves….

    But suppose we were all suddenly forced tomorrow morning to live only in the small society of our own street. As a matter of fact we should find that small society was not only a terribly large society, but a terribly startling, disturbing and even terrifying society…. We should be forced to meet all sorts and conditions of men … We should not be allowed by this healthy and varied society to indulge our little madnesses.”

  • Rodak

    @ Thales — I agree that the rancor has been worse at times in the past. But I can remember no time when the divisions of society have each been characterized by such a high degree of despair. The sides may despise each other, but they do so in an increasingly dispirited manner. The civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements lasted years and involved real risk and sacrifice. Both the Tea Party and OWS are already showing signs of running out of gas. And only on the OWS side was any real risk taken by participants. It’s hard to keep going with a “movement” when you don’t really believe in the future that you pretend to hope to be trying to bring about.

    • Thales

      But I can remember no time when the divisions of society have each been characterized by such a high degree of despair. …. It’s hard to keep going with a “movement” when you don’t really believe in the future that you pretend to hope to be trying to bring about.

      I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but I wonder… doesn’t your comment tend to support the idea that things aren’t getting rancorous, since the sides are not becoming more militant and vitriolic, but becoming despondent and giving up?

      • Rodak

        @ Thales —

        Yes. I said that it has been more rancorous in the past. Today’s rancor is tepid. I don’t necessarily think that is a good thing, since there is much evil afoot which needs to be addressed directly and strongly.

  • Richard Nixon is the culprit. His election in 1968 allowed him to completely re-invent the Republican Party as a fear-based ideological movement, based on a “Southern strategy”, and everything that has happened since is a result of the massive re-alignment of the two U.S. political parties that followed.

    But the real culprits are those of us who were the foot soldiers in the Sixties Movement. When Martin was killed we forgot everything he had taught us, and turned into ordinary leftist radicals. That in turn gave Nixon and his supporters the evidence they needed to convince the sensible center–who always ultimately decide in any democracy–into believing we were leading the nation into anarchy, and the only way to prevent that was to vote for him.

    We thought we had won the battle when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964–when in fact it had torn southern society to pieces, and it would take decades more of nonviolence to complete that change. (Joan Baez’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is the only indication any of the Movement leaders realized that.) This radical failure on the left allowed Nixon to transform the South from solid Democratic to solid Republican, and the rest is history.

    • As a Yankee who grew up in the South in the days Ivan is speaking about, I have to say that I think he’s absolutely correct: the Republican Party had never before been racist until Richard Nixon made it so. In the 70s, when my younger brother graduated from high school, the education systems of the American South had become completely de-segregated; now, under the leadership of the “Country Club Republican Party,” almost all public school systems are re-segregated along racial lines, based upon housing prices and local taxes. Nobody will talk about it down there, but, for instance, the public schools of such a large school district as Dekalb County are more racially segregated than they were in the 60s. This is the work of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which Reagan persisted in and solidified.

    • Abraham Lincoln is is the culprit. His election in 1860 allowed him to invent the Republican Party as a “Union party”; he preserved that union no matter the cost in lives and dishonor to the vanquished states of the South. The “culture war” we suffer today is in large measure a long-distance result of the Civil War, much as the rise of the Nazi party in Weimar Germany was a consequence of Versailles.

      We thought we had won when the Civil War ended in 1865 – when in fact it had torn southern society to pieces, and ill feelings still persist, generations later.

      • Rodak

        @ Frank M. —

        But the Nazis arose within the same generation that was humiliated at Versailles–not even 20 years had passed. And after another 20 years, the Germans had seen the error of their ways and had gotten over it. They started building VWs and the rest is history.
        The South has had almost 150 years to deal with the loss of Ashley Wilkes, and the realization that Sir Walter Scott was a really crappy writer; it’s had ample time to “rise again.” Isn’t it about time to drop that excuse, put the Stars and Bars in mothballs (or, better, burn every last one) and get on with it?

    • Julia Smucker

      That’s what I always say about the cycle of violence: any participation in it only plays into the hands of one’s enemies by giving them a reason to demonize.

      Nixon’s old tune is the same one all our politicians are still singing: wreck and ruin if the other guys get their way. And because we’re ruled by fear, we believe them.

    • Rodak

      @ Ivan Kauffman —

      You seem to be forgetting that it was the urban riots in the wake of King’s assassination that allowed Nixon to become “the Law & Order” candidate and president. That had very little to do with campus anti-war “radicals” and much to do with white fears of an African-American revolution. You also seem to be forgetting that the Dixiecrats had already deserted the Democratic party and been welcomed into the Republican fold prior to the reemergence of Nixon from political limbo. Nixon certainly used these cultural-political forces to his advantage, but he was an opportunist (like RFK at the same time, on the other side); he instigated none of them. And they would have been used by somebody else–perhaps somebody even worse–if Nixon hadn’t been there.

  • Pluralism run amok + increased concentration of political power at a federal level = not a viable system. All sides recognize that this type of system is the ultimate “winner takes all” scenario, and hence, refraining from giving up any ground is considered more of a priority than compromise.

    The only solution, in my mind, is a radical return to federalism the way it was originally conceived, namely, with more power and control being held at the state level. States, in kind, should be more organized around shared values and principles than economic incentives.

  • My sense is that our polarized politics, which is nothing new, is due to a number of factors largely rooted, as you say, in fear: tribalism, egoism, the belief that one has a monopoly on the truth, to name a few.

    We also have a mass media network that makes good money off of alienating us all from one another, instilling fear, and convincing us to pursue a host of false needs. And we play along.

  • I believe the main driver of our dissention results from our loss of the meaning of ‘the common good’. We have transitioned to an impoverished understanding of summing all our individual goods (rights, pursuits and rewards) into a so called ‘common good’. Everything is measured as the totality of what INDIVIDUALS possess or produce (a la GDP). But this is not ‘the common good’ at all. The common good is indivisible and available to all and currently its being depleted rather than enriched.

  • Rodak

    @ David Cruz-Uribe —

    I’m curious… In the current political climate, how would you summarize the typical “nastiness” of the left–assuming that something truly “nasty” will be untrue and therefore unfair? What do you hear from establishment figures on the left that compares to the racist innuendo of Newt Gingrich (which has not been condemned by even one of his opponents)? What do you see in the media–including MSNBC–that compares to the lies and disinformation propagated by Fox News? I frankly don’t see it. Rachel Maddow, for instance, is clearly a spokesperson for progressive positions. But her reports are without fail well-researched and her sources cited on the air. On those occasions when she has been proven wrong on some small point, she has invariably not only made an on-air retraction, but also presented the details of the actual situation.
    There are times when bending over backwards to be “fair” only legitimizes and enables that which should be condemned by people of goodwill.

    • Julia Smucker

      Sometimes I start to think maybe I’m a liberal – and then I watch a few minutes of Rachel Maddow and am completely disavowed of that notion. From what I’ve seen, all she does is make caustic remarks about Republicans, sometimes hastening to ascribe malicious motives. And Lawrence O’Donnell just distills Keith Olbermann’s pompous rage into a cold concentrated stare while he drills in the hatred of Republicans in his measured voice; it’s downright creepy. I can’t stand to listen to any of these people for very long.

      My point here is that if I, who may at least sometimes be sympathetic to their positions, am so thoroughly put off by their style that all I can hear is the vitriol, that indicates to me that the delivery is overwhelming the message in a way that only reinforces the views of the convinced and alienates everyone else. They end up sounding like mirror images of Rush Limbaugh, who just sits there and spews. I would think people so convinced of the rightness of their own ideologies would try to convince more rationally, but they’re all just preaching to their own choirs, which only exacerbates the problem – and supports another growing suspicion of mine, that those who most love to hate each other are those who most resemble each other.

      I admit there is a kind of paralysis in my commitment to bipartisanship, in that I sometimes feel unable to critique either the left or the right (at least not in the abstract) without hastening to critique the other as well, lest I be mistaken for something I’m not. And I agree that in the concrete, there are sometimes specific statements or policies that should simply be condemned outright, without any need for a counterexample to prove oneself balanced. Actually, a real commitment to bipartisanship (would that I too were free from fear) should enable one to do just that: to name injustices wherever one sees them, regardless of political affiliation; in short, to prophesy from the center.

      • brettsalkeld

        Amen!

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    “There are times when bending over backwards to be “fair” only legitimizes and enables that which should be condemned by people of goodwill.”

    Rodak: I agree completely: please re-read my original post. As for the nastiness of the left: for many years I have been dismayed by the personal vindictiveness of much left-liberal commentary directed at, say, George W. Bush. I disagreed strongly with the man’s politics, but I always felt uncomfortable about the personal spite which seemed to directed towards him as a human being. But this seems to spring from a different proximate source than, say, Gingrich’s race baiting.

    • Rodak

      @ David Cruz-Uribe —

      Every president’s personal foibles are lampooned by the other side. Maybe you don’t remember the kind of treatment LBJ, for instance, received. Jimmy Carter is still receiving it today. But this is done primarily by the entertainment industry (which now includes the press.) The difference that I was trying to point out is that, on the right, this stuff is coming from mainstream politicians, and directed not only at their political counterparts, but at the electorate. Teachers are villainized. All union members are belittled and villainized. Intellectuals are ridiculed and demonized. Minorities are targeted for scorn. Anything “European” is spoken of as though it were Maoist. I don’t think that this kind of thing is anywhere near as prevalent coming from the left/liberal side. And when it is–as when investment bankers and corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers are villainized–the venom is much more accurately and fairly directed at a real enemy of the common good.

      • Julia Smucker

        I’m going to try one more time: “The other side does it just as badly or worse” is no justification for continuing to spread the poison of hate. That’s just the self-perpetuating cycle of violence at work. Even worse is “our venom is justified because it’s true.”

        This is the same argument that Jon Stewart made to Tim Pawlenty when he brought up examples of leftist violence. http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-january-12-2011/tim-pawlenty

        Their discussion of course gets more complicated, with the two significantly agreeing on fear as motivating anger, and Stewart raising questions similar to yours about the mainstreaming of violence within the Republican Party. I won’t deny that that’s part of the problem, and it’s one of the questions I was raising originally. I just think that as long as we remain stuck in the which-side-is-worse blame game, we are only addressing the problem superficially. I still believe the better question to be asking is, what are people so afraid of? Especially if we can make an honest effort to understand the (perhaps legitimate) fears of whoever it is we most want to demonize, rather than defaulting to assumptions of raw self-interest.

  • Ronald King

    What has happened to us is a reflection of what is in us. First, as others have mentioned we are under the influence of fear. Since that fear is never directly addressed it becomes the fuel which drives us to compete through the use of our intelligence to devise plans for possession of whatever it is that we value and to protect that which we have accumulated. Along with this fear is an instinctive rage which builds over time due to the helplessness which this unresolved fear creates. In other words, fear’s core beliefs are I am helpless and I am nothing; people are dangerous and want what I want or want what I have; etc. Two general reactions to this fear are to attempt to be someone special and/or to seek a savior whether that savior is a human being, a corporation, a political party, a church, or any group that projects the same beliefs as I do. Our whole neurobiological system is predisposed to this before the beginning of human consciousness and then continually consciously reinforced through the exercise of violence to get what one wants. Our interpersonal relationships in the west have evolved into the violence of manipulation through ideas which speak to the unresolved fear and hate present in each of us. We have not learned to be vulnerable with self nor the other and so we seem divided but instead we are connected through the trances of fear and hate and this is what is the evil of this world. We have created a collective force of evil because we have walled ourselves from self and the other and instinctively we know this but we are too walled off to actually address it.

    • Julia Smucker

      Well that sounds awfully fatalistic. Is there any hope or should we just all shoot each other now and get it over with?

      • Rodak

        @ Julia Smucker —

        Certainly we don’t shoot each other. My suggestion would be that we mount a campaign to boycott the political process as completely as possible in next year’s national election. If there were to be a 2% turn-out what we would see is that the result would be no different than what we would expect it to be if the turn-out was 80%.
        If nobody voted, however, it would become obvious to everybody how totally the game is rigged by the powers-behind-the-scenes. We think we are empowered and free, and we allow ourselves to be deluded by the television entertainment that politics has become. It is nothing more than the “circuses” element of the “bread and circuses” equation that has worked since imperial Rome to keep the populace peaceful, compliant, and distracted from the nitty-gritty situation. We don’t really pick our candidates. They are pre-selected for us by plutocrats who don’t really care that much which ones are chosen in the primaries or the final elections. They’ve all been vetted as bascially acceptible and funded according to their rank in the preferences of the various special interests.
        The rancor is stirred up by the media wing of the corporate world to keep us from getting bored with it all, since it would totally lack any kind of excitement without the controversy. They keep gay marriage, 2nd amendment rights, abortion, limited government, “Obama-care” and taxes–all hot-button issues–constantly on the tube. They keep a stream of easily-remembered slogans being churned out to fix the mind-set of the relatively unsophisticated majority. And in the end, they get what they pay for.

      • Ronald King

        Julia, What I described is the reality of the part of the psyche which tends to dominate human relationships when these relationships and is built on defensive mechanisms due to the influence of an environment which is not secure due to an inability to know what love is and how to express it. We then relate to each other through these defense mechanisms which comprise the make-up of the false self. The only hope is to look to the example of the vulnerability and love of Christ as a guide to begin to be honest first with oneself and then the other. Or we can continue to shoot each other with words or guns or just off ourselves, but that would be the result of learned helplessness which believes that no matter what I do nothing will change.

      • You began with…The closest I can come to any kind of answer is my growing suspicion that most if not all human sin, whether personal or social, is rooted in fear. So maybe the question to be asking is, what is the fear that we – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and Americans of all stripes – are so enslaved to? On this point, I remain at a loss.

        The answer to your mystery of fear is simple to envision and difficult to realize. All fear is ultimately based upon death, dread or punishment. Overcoming this is the fruit of the gospel (ie: conversion). We go round and round in the cycles of violence you mentioned, until we begin something new.

        There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 1 John 4.18

  • There’s much talk of “fear” here, but I want to tell most of you, who appear to live in the United States–and especially you, Julia–that you need to get out of there more often, and travel, especially, to the more populous places in the world, becaus then you would learn that there is genuine, and growing fear here of the American RIGHT and never of the Left, for the simple reason that it is from THEM, that we outside of the United States are perceiving more and more talk of war. The Left, inside of the United States, seem increasingly isolationist, which is exactly what most of the poor people of the world–the majority–wish that you folks would become.

    I should like to add that I’m almost persuaded by Rodak, above, to desist in my efforts to get an absentee ballot for November, 2012. In fact, if it’s not Gingrich or Santorum as Obomber’s challenger, and if Ron Paul doesn’t run as an independent, I think I’ll ignore my so-called “civic duty” and sit this one out, hoping that many, many more do so, as well.

    • Julia Smucker

      This sounds rather patronizing, toward all of us in this discussion (do you think you’re the only person here who’s traveled?) and toward “the poor people of the world” whom you refer to as if they were a monolithic group. In my experience, if I may make a bold generalization, the rest of the world doesn’t much know left from right in terms of US politics (and why should they?), except for the few who choose to follow that sort of thing. Aside from a degree of Obama-worship that had some popularity in Africa (where I was living when he was elected), America’s reputation does not appear to be instantaneously affected by which party is in charge. Specific foreign policy issues, sure, but those fortunate enough not to be steeped in our madhouse of a political sphere won’t necessarily draw a straight line from the one to the other.

  • Well, Julia, all I can tell you about are the English-speaking, educated classes among whom I work here in India, and, about them, you are absolutely wrong; instead of what you say, they are watching the American ideological battle avidly.

    • Julia Smucker

      In that case, I stand corrected. So now I’m curious: what do these English-speaking educated Indians think of Ron Paul?

      • Since they’re very sophisticated about economics, and since it’s their major concern (Indians are the most financially savvy people I know, in fact), they think his economic ideas are crazy, as do I. However, they trust Obama to prevent the looming military confrontation in the Middle East. I don’t, and regard Dr. Paul as the only person in the U.S. Government capable of resisting the Zionist lobby.

  • Digby it seems you’re demonstrating the universal nature of fear. For much of the world, its fear or paranoia of a hegemonic U.S. For the U.S. citizenry its paranoia about an unstable world unable to peacefully solve its own problems which somehow winds up as our concern. As far as your Right/Left analysis, its far too simplistic…even the last Republican president was propelled into office with a domestic agenda which was shredded by 9/11.

    • Ronald King

      Tausign, I do not think it is paranoid for the rest of the world to fear the U.S. It seems that our gluttony for oil has caused much suffering in countries we have influenced to sell us oil. We are not paranoid. Our fear of an unstable world is a justified fear since our mass consumption of energy which can never be satisfied continues to create persistent distress in the world community. I wonder how many lives have been lost due to my gluttony? Damn, I hate taking responsibilty for helping create the “culture of death” and continuing to support it.

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