Across the Aisle

“E pluribus unum” or, “out of the many, one”.  This is not only the motto for our country but a prescription for our current political woes.  Many Democrats, and some others, were shocked by the results of the November election, and it has been—at least for me—a great temptation to lash out at those on the opposite side.

To do this would not be only a lapse of neighborly civility, but would foster the very divisiveness that led to the electoral upheaval, and make it much, much worse.  In short, if we do not make it our sincere pledge to hear our opponents’ voices, to make their views welcome and respected, then we exacerbate the societal divisions that left them feeling ignored and left out.

Further, a divided and unstable United States is a boon to our enemies abroad. This was made abundantly clear when it was discovered that Russia had promoted Twitter feeds on both sides of the NFL debate:  #boycottNFL and #takeaknee.  American (and European) discord takes our attention off of what the Russians and others are really doing.

We can do better.  We must do better, for practical reasons as well as ideological concerns.  Here’s why:

  • Democrats are in the governing minority, so they ALONE can neither move legislation forward nor stop unwanted laws or nominations from happening. For ANY of our goals to be reached, we need bipartisan votes. The more we demonize the other side, the less chance there is for that crossover to happen—and everything we want depends on that.
  • Many who voted Republican may be having second thoughts. Indeed, the president’s approval rating is historically low.  Let us make it feel safe for those neighbors and friends to admit their disappointment.
  • It’s good karma.

But how can we do this while still fighting for what we believe in?  As Evelyn Beatrice Hall, (English author) wrote in 1906: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Here are a few concrete suggestions for everyday civility (without giving up your soul):

  • Ask open ended questions about the long view. For example, “How do you feel about how divided things are in the US today?  How do you think we might go about repairing the divisive environment?”
  • Look for areas of mutual interest and agree on something. For example, talk about local air or water pollution, the difficulty getting anything done in Congress, or the need to improve national infrastructure (bridges, roads, etc.)
  • Listen, actively. Pay close attention to what is being said. Restate what you heard to be sure you have it right.  Probe (calmly) into areas of interest – based on what the person actually said – not just what’s on your agenda.

In other words, listen respectfully, disagree respectfully, and (if nothing else) agree to disagree.  If we lose our common identity as Americans, we’ve lost much more than an election.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IN invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Opinion: Brutally Dishonest

I heard some Trump supporters being interviewed on NPR recently. To a person, they extolled him for being a “straight shooter” who “doesn’t beat around the bush” and “tells it like it is.”

This reinforced something curious I’ve noticed recently: Trump is perceived as a no-nonsense guy, despite the fact that he’s been proven time and again to be a chronic and habitual liar (e.g., crowd size at his inauguration, millions of illegal voters, accusing Obama of wiretapping, etc.)

Why is this? Clearly, Trump’s supporters find his abrasiveness and lack of polish refreshing. But I’m afraid they’re also falsely equating these attributes with honesty. George W. Bush received similar praise from his supporters, despite the fact that he, too, was frequently less than truthful (e.g., claims about WMDs prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion).

I think people in many pockets of this country instinctively confuse ineloquence with candor. These folks are inclined to trust people who speak in a manner that makes them seem “common” and “like one of us.”

Conversely, they seem to mistrust people who are articulate, well-spoken, and sound like “elites.” This would explain the common misperception during the election that Hillary Clinton was conniving and disingenuous, despite the fact that fact checks of their respective statements have consistently shown her to be more truthful by far than Trump.

Unfortunately, American history is littered with examples of anti-intellectualism. In the 1630’s, Puritans ostracized those who did not conform to their dogmatic religious views. In the 1880s, the “Know Nothing” party gained prominence as an anti-Catholic, anti-immigration movement. The mindless violence of the KKK in the 1920s was followed by the more subtle, anti-intellectual racism of George Wallace in the late 1960s. It still persists to this day when those who question an authoritarian populist like Trump are denigrated as treasonous and unpatriotic.

Americans’ tendency to trust anti-intellectuals is self-destructive and dangerous. We need to continue to call Mr. Trump out on his blatant lies, and to fight his pernicious agenda with every ounce of energy we can muster.

Andy Sullivan is a yoga instructor, fitness guru, writer, and musician. He grew up in Stow, and has been living in Shirley with his wife, Cathy, since 2001.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.