We the people are responsible for our divisive politics
January 4, 2019
Over the past couple of years, since the momentous 2016 election, a lot has changed in our national conversation. However, one might not even call it a conversation so much as a yelling match. I’ve been trying to observe it and touch on some of those observations in this column for the past year or so. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive, but not universally so.
One of the constants I’ve observed has been the tendency of some to jump to conclusions about me. If I write about the importance of immigration reform, I’m accused of being a “globalist,” an “open borders” guy, a shill for the Democratic Party. I wrote a piece about the need for listening to each other and expanding our perspective. I was accused of being a dishonest shill for the Republican Party.
Thankfully, I have not had to deal with any threats to my life. It was a year-and-a-half ago when a supporter of Bernie Sanders shot at and almost killed several Republicans. And it was a supporter of President Trump who sent mail bombs to various Democratic lawmakers and personalities. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, of course, when the political rhetoric is consistently so extreme, when we demonize so thoroughly those we disagree with politically.
H.L. Mencken is reported to have said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” President Trump certainly represents a significant loss of moral decency in the Executive Branch. It should be noted, however, that almost everything said by Democratic supporters about the current president was said about Republicans in the past. Someone wrote to me saying that President Trump is “dangerous” and “deranged.” That may be true in his case, but, truth be told, I heard the exact same words used to describe Mitt Romney in 2012, and John McCain in 2008, and of course George W. Bush and his father.
If every Republican is going to be labeled dangerous, then is it any wonder that Republicans chose President Trump? Why pretend anymore that a “respectable” candidate will be treated fairly? “Elect the guy who will get something done, who will fight back,” some have argued, as though the fight were the important thing.
I recently heard the story of a Republican congressman who was canvasing his northern Wisconsin district in 2016. He visited a kindly older woman and explained that he was running for the House of Representatives. She cut him off mid-pitch, asking him to which party he belonged. “Republican,” he said. Her demeanor changed. “I’ll never vote for a Republican, no thanks.” He thanked her for her time and started to walk away, but then she stuck her head out from behind the screen door far enough to yell after him that she was voting for Trump because “he’ll shake things up.”
My point is that as much as we might think that 2016 marked a watershed moment of something new and terrible in our nation, a new age of political rancor, it seems to me more likely that our current state of affairs is the fruit of something wrong that needed to be “shaken.” It is something wrong for which we are all responsible, and we have got it good and hard.
I hope to get at some of what that “wrong” might be. Until then, please, this is not an attack on any one party. We need both of them, and we need them to be strong and sane. That’s not the case right now, and that fact is only part of the real danger we face together.
Deacon Omar Gutierrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.