Politics and the loss of our post-9/11 unity
“Politics is the systematic organization of hatreds.”
—- Henry Adams, grandson and great-grandson of presidents
Halfway back in a half-full ballroom at Two Rivers Convention Center Saturday night, I couldn’t help but wonder how and where we’d lost it.
Soon, just a few hours after the conclusion of Club 20’s political debates, we’d be marking the 15th anniversary of a trio of 9/11 tragedies that cost us more than 3,000 lives. By the time that second airplane hit the twin towers of the Trade Center in New York City, by the time another hijacked passenger plane narrowly missed a direct hit on the Pentagon, by the time a third plowed upside down into a field in rural Pennsylvania, we were becoming a unified United States of America.
United in our shock, united in our grief, united in our compassion, united in our resolve and united in support of one another, of first responders who unhesitatingly ran toward danger, of families who lost loved ones, of a government struggling to give us answers and provide us protection.
Somehow, over the space of 180 months, during two administrations both Republican and Democrat, we’d lost it. We’d lost that sense of unity, the feeling that, as St. Paul said, “We are all one of another.” Instead we’d devolved into a society where compromise, bipartisanship, working across the aisle to solve problems had become a cardinal sin rather than a virtue, where our own personal political petulance superseded the greater good.
There’ve been some notable accomplices to this unfortunate turn of events.
They include politicians of all stripes. There are those who actually celebrate shutting down our government rather than working cooperatively to write a budget. Those in the House or Senate who purposely send to the other body legislation they know will be unacceptable merely to create the illusion of action on their part. Those who draw initial lines in the sand that preclude any sort of reasonable negotiation. Those quick to point fingers before first looking in the mirror to see if they have any responsibility for an impasse.
It pains me to say, after spending most of my professional life in the media, that my chosen profession also shares in the blame.
Once, serious journalists held politicians and others accountable on issues. Today we have what’s been termed “soccer ball journalism” where reporters rush from one side of the political field to the other, following the bouncing ball of accusations and retorts. Because it’s easy, we have what I’ve called “scoreboard journalism” where the ever-burgeoning number of polls becomes the principal topic of discussion.
With the advent of 24/7/365 news channels and, more recently, internet blogs and news sites, we all have our own set of facts to rely on as reporting becomes confused with commentary. We’re treated to endless interviews, occasionally a celebration of ignorance, with talking heads sporting sometimes questionable credentials because they’re cheaper to assemble than teams of reporters who might add something more valuable to the discussions.
But we really have only ourselves to blame. It’s not the fault of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or anyone else even further out on the edge of conservative or liberal politics.
Inch by inch, issue by issue, we’ve incrementally allowed the absurd to become the norm. Moderate voices on both the left and the right have chosen to sit back and let the “patriots” and the “progressives” fire increasingly vicious verbal shots across the deafening silence of those in the middle who choose absence rather than outrage as their coping mechanism. We rest comfortably in the easy chair of our own convictions, supplementing them only with the news that fits our preconceived notions.
It’s unfortunate it’s come to this … that what divides us is seemingly more important than what we have in common. I wonder where the bottom really is and whether our untenable political situation can right itself before things get even worse.
“We get in government, as we get in any situation in life, we get the reflection of our own consciousness. We can’t really complain about what we have because that is us, it’s a reflection of our own being.”
— George Harrison