I just saw the movie, “RBG”, about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  It was terrific, and I recommend it highly.  And although I might differ from her positions on some issues, her most important ones concern gender and minority equality before the law, and she has overwhelming moral and legal strength on her side.  The movie brought me back to a subject I have been mulling, the culture wars.

Why have the arguments and differences between liberals and conservatives (or better, between progressives and tea partiers), become so bitter?  I find that on a very large swath of economic policies—monetary, fiscal, free markets–for the most part, people on both sides can talk to one another.  But on social issues—abortion rights, homosexual and transgender issues, redistribution of wealth and income, gun control—friendships have been terminated and people won’t talk to someone with opposing views.  Compromise and forward movement is impossible when this occurs.

Where else in history, or in modern times, have we seen this kind of total rejection of “the other”?  We have seen it between fascism and liberal democracies, between communism and free market democracies.  We have also seen it between Catholics and Protestants, between Christians and Jews, and between Islam and all other religions.

In each case, the opposing sides held different (and unprovable) beliefs about the nature of man, about their group’s unique right to dominance, about the existence of God and the Eternal’s relationship to mankind.  Perhaps because these beliefs are unprovable, to challenge them is to challenge who a person really is.  And that becomes so uncomfortable, that people just do not want to hear, debate, or reason with someone who represents that challenge to self.

It is possible, as our society has become more secular, less religious (or at least less involved with organized religion), that other ideals and beliefs have replaced those core values held by followers of organized religion, who have their own beliefs shaped by religious dogma or tradition.  Regardless, it is opposing social beliefs, more than economic, that are at the root of the culture wars which have made our partisan politics so bitter and uncompromising.  That last thought is not original; somewhere in my reading I came across it.

Is this an intractable problem?  One way out of it is through better leadership from those at the pinnacle of our society, the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, respected business leaders, lawyers or academics.  Leadership can stress those unifying elements that bring us together as a nation, and remind us of them frequently, so the differences, which will always exist, don’t overwhelm us.  Another way was on display in the movie I just saw, which inspired this blog post.

On the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became best of friends with the late Justice Antonin Scalia.  Two brilliant lawyers and judges could not have been farther apart politically, yet they were known and acknowledged as close friends.  What was the magic, the chemistry, that allowed this to happen?  Clearly, they were both lawyers of the highest caliber, and developed mutual respect.  They were in an environment where they were forced to work together, and to listen to each other, whether they agreed or not, and sworn to uphold the Constitution, although they certainly interpreted it differently.

We cannot force adults to listen to people with whom they disagree, or to work side by side with them.  But there is an arena where we could do a better job with a large minority of the population, in college or university.   From the reports and articles I read, we don’t seem to be doing a good job in this arena.  University administrations need to make sure they are not creating classrooms of indoctrination, where dissent from the professor’s view is suppressed or disrespected.  Speakers coming to campus should be protected, allowed to speak, and encouraged to put forth controversial views.

In another era, the military service and the draft performed some of this function.  It’s possible we should consider some sort of compulsory national service.  But that’s a topic for another blog posting.

25 thoughts on “Rising Above the Fray

  1. Great thoughts! I wonder if the bitterness between Tea Partiers and Progressives has become more bitter than that which existed between Liberals and Conservatives is because the former moved that much more to the right and the left than the latter, making a gap that much more difficult to breach.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Sue! I think your observation is correct and certainly part of the story, but not the whole explanation. And social media, functioning sometimes as an echo chamber is part. The whole is complex in origin, but what we need now is the beginning of solutions.

      Like

  2. Well, said! While I may have disagreed with some of the positions that the American Centrist has taken in the past, I agree with this post whole-heartedly! Somehow, we have to find a way to counteract the Red-versus-Blue polarization that has become commonplace for far too long in this country.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Paul. The polarization occurs in part because each side demonizes the other based on belief systems that it feels can’t be questioned. Many reject even talking to the other side about innocuous issues, let alone difficult ones. Too bad our Constitution, which enshrines freedom of speech, says nothing about an obligation to listen!

      Like

  3. Okay we started with freedom of speech. But we really didn’t have it. One was constrained by those around him. If you were in the South you couldn’t speak up to support a black person. Maybe in the North you couldn’t speak approvingly of Irish immigrants. If you were a member of a church you had to express the ideas of that church. This went on for a long time.
    Maybe the Sixties were kind of a turning point when you could say anti-establishment things. But that came in for a lot of criticism also.
    In time it became right to respect what other people said as in freedom of speech. That was in a very good direction.
    Then Obama was elected. Clearly this rubbed a larger percentage of people than we knew wrong. Then Trump was elected and those unhappy people who had carefully suppressed their true feelings felt empowered to say what they thought – freedom of speech.
    And then others felt the need to let those people know that what they were saying should not be said. Which of course leads to a response reaction.
    So nobody is in the closet anymore and everybody is empowered to say what he or she thinks.
    Maybe after everybody has had his or her say and not much has changed people will get tired of talking and get back to focusing on their daily lives in which they can truly have a positive impact rather than trying to change the world.
    Which gets to your point of working together with the people you are in contact with in your daily life.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Bert, for your recent history of free speech and its perils. You end on a tentatively happy note, reminiscent of Voltaire’s
      Candide”, where in the end, one of the characters says something like, “We must cultivate our gardens”. The problem to me is not so much an excess of speech, as an absence of listening.

      Like

      1. You could not be more right.

        Who is listening?

        You have to stop talking to listen.

        I really do believe we will get through this phase and get back onto a positive path. There are too many good people in this world

        Like

  4. As always, I commend your thoughtful and balanced approach to complex issues. But, again, I see things differently. Could we have had a more thoughtful, gracious, caring President than President Obama? No matter your thoughts about him as a politician, as a leader, most would see him as inspirational, I imagine. That is if we can still believe that “most” can remove the blinders of their political positions.

    Regarding Christians and Muslims, et. al., those issues still rage and warfare has always seemed to be the answer.

    The left, or G-d hating Progressives, as Billy Graham’s son said in San Diego this week, are a pallid image of the Roosevelt and Kennedy era Democrats, they have moved so far right. But, as a comment pointed out, the Right has just moved Right faster.

    No, I think that like slavery, we will not resolve this divide until the house self-immolates or, in that confrontation, one side is victorious.

    Wish I could be more sanguine about all of this but there are times and tides in human events and we are on the cusp of the accelerating international rightward march. There is no noticeable inflection point. I fear that we are simply witnesses to folly. As has so often been the case in human events.

    Like

    1. Hi, Rene. Thanks for your comments, and they are well expressed, even if I disagree with many. First, I am not nearly as pessimistic as you. And just as a new party was needed to end slavery, the Republicans in 1860, so a new party is needed now to represent the Center of America. I certainly think President Obama was a great symbol of America, but I do not agree that he was an excellent leader. He advertised himself as “the post-Partisan President”, but did not behave accordingly.

      Like

  5. Great post, good to see the American Centrist back in business. You hit the nail on the head with many of these points, but the most poignant one I’ve heard and read evidence of is that when Washington worked best, it was when our elected representatives spent more social time together across the aisle and made friends, humanizing the opposition. Today apparently that has become taboo to the extremes in both parties…and congress in particular spends so much time in their home districts raising money and running for perpetual reelection that they don’t have the time in DC to do what Ginsburg and Scalia did.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Matt. Even term limits won’t help with that; they’d still be raising money and campaigning until their last term, at which point they become a lame duck anyway. Leadership from the President, VP, Speaker, Majority Leader, etc. is the only thing I can think of to help with that.

      Like

  6. Bob, Linda and I read your article on RBG and it all makes sense. You should run for public office to implement your thoughts, you certainly have our vote! We are seeing RBG tomorrow. Ironically, when we asked Herb Schaer to see it with us, he emphatically said no and inquired if we wanted to see one about Judge Scalia. Some people are so narrow minded. Barry

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

    1. Thanks, Barry and Linda! Your friend is a perfect illustration of the opposite of the Bader-Scalia willingness to listen and debate, rather than try to ignore.

      Like

  7. Bob,

    Glad to see you regained the courage to keep blogging.
    Without dialogue … nothing happens & the world ceases to progress.

    George

    BTW… in your last post you stated “..the system works”
    Amen .. if systems are competitive transactional environments.
    … the word capitalism carries too many non-centrist political baggage for me.

    Like

    1. Hi, George! Good to hear from you, and I’m glad you are reading these posts. When I said “the system works”, I should have defined it more closely as “the economic system” or “the innovation system”. Either you have an economic system that permits the private ownership of property or you don’t–I don’t see a compromise. That said, the subjects of regulation and welfare state policies are separate subjects, I believe.

      Like

  8. BOB, GREAT BLOG. I CAN’T AGREE MORE WITH THE REASONING THAT UNIVERSITIES SHOULD HAVE PROFESSORS WHO CAN DISCUSS ALL POSITIONS, PRO OR CON, ON A SUBJECT. STRESSING THAT SUBJECTIVE POSITIONS CAN BE PUT FORTH, BUT LISTEN TO OTHERS AND REALIZE WE HAVE ALWAYS TRIED TO BE COUNTRY THAT SEES AN INHERENT VALUE TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. THANKS FOR A GOOD START TO A VALUABLE TOPIC FOR FUTURE INDIVIDUAL SUBJECTS,

    Like

  9. Hi Bob: Just came “on board” and have read 3-4 of your most recent posts. Very well done!
    Something you repeatedly refer to—both directly and by inference—is the necessity for leadership. The great partisan divide which has so riled our nation will not, can not, be healed until there truly is a ‘uniter’ vs. a ‘divider’ at the very top.
    Think of it: day in and day out there is a steady flow of vitriol out of Washington which cannot help but cheer some of our populace while sending others into despair. How can one expect comity in such an environment?
    One can only hope, in these dark days, that real leadership will ultimately find a voice, or find an electorate.

    Like

    1. Mark–thanks for your thoughtful comments. I certainly agree about the importance of positive leadership. I hope you’ll scroll all the way to the bottom, and look for the button to subscribe. Perhaps send the link to friends of yours that you think might want to read here as well.

      Like

  10. Bob,

    Since you recommended RBG … I would like to recommend the following book
    https://www.amazon.com/Righteous-Mind-Divided-Politics-Religion/dp/0307455777/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1531481734&sr=1-1&keywords=haidt
    it addresses the central issue of your blog … how to be constructive in a politically polarized electorate.
    …its not prescriptive but might provide insights for your blog in creating a narrative with a broader appeal.

    George

    From: george adaniya
    Sent: Tuesday, 05 June, 2018 6:32 PM
    To: ‘THE AMERICAN CENTRIST’
    Subject: RE: [New post] Rising Above the Fray

    Bob,

    Glad to see you regained the courage to keep blogging.
    Without dialogue … nothing happens & the world ceases to progress.

    George

    BTW… in your last post you stated “..the system works”
    Amen .. if systems are competitive transactional environments.
    … the word capitalism carries too many non-centrist political baggage for me.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s