In the speech that launched his national political career in 2004, Barack Obama famously said, “There are no red states of America, or blue states of America, but only the United States of America.” Thirteen years later, I have reluctantly come to disagree. Now I think, 241 years after this Great American Experiment in democracy was fought for, and 152 after surviving a Civil War, it may be time for a divorce.
Our differences may be irreconcilable. And that may be OK. We’ve had a good run.
Here’s a quick test: put this article down, go freshen up your coffee, and come back with just one philosophy about which both Republicans and Democrats can agree.
Pencils down. What did you identify as our hopeful common ground, economically, politically, culturally? Me? I got nuthin, Jerry. Because there is no consensus on any shared facts. And therein lies the rub.
The words “trust” and “truth” share a semantic root. If we don’t trust one another’s sources, which more often than not we don’t, we don’t believe one another’s assertions of truth. Apparently, truth can be whatever you say it is.
So I say, somewhat satirically for the sake of questioning assumptions, and in the name of our hallowed Pursuit of Happiness, let’s just go ahead and have two separate countries, Red and Blue. Ok, three — Purple as well. For those who want it both ways depending on the context of the times.
Reds: you will be happy being exclusively privatized and Christian. Blues: you will be happy squabbling constantly about the definition of blue. Purples: heads up — you will be an attractive vacation destination.
I kid, of course. Kind of. What’s fascinating to me almost more than anything else is that the script hath been flipped. Traditionally moral relativists on the left (of which I am one) are now arguing for absolute truth, not Trump’s convenient “alternative facts.”
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Pick your pet issue. Any issue. One side says they have The Truth, the other side says they have The Truth, and the 4th Estate, Journalism, is supposed to have the role of stepping in as the Referee of Truth. That ain’t workin out so well as all of us yell at one another on the playground: “I’m right!” “No, you’re not, I’m right!” Hey, time out! You’re both right. And wrong at the same time. Humility is a major key to peace. But that ain’t workin’ out so well, either.
I work with toddlers who engage in more mature exchanges than some of our current potty-mouth politicians. Speaking of children, ultimately our primary responsibility is to model healthy behavior. If the kids I teach bragged about grabbing genitalia and shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, they’d be expelled. Guess I just showed my true blue colors there, huh? To quote the late great coach Vince Lombardi, “What the hell’s goin on around here?!”
I had a Political Science prof at Iowa State in the early ‘80s who gave me a couple nuggets of wisdom worth repeating today: a.) Gridlock can be a measure of healthy democracy. The more our Great Sausage Machine slows down because of its checks and balances, the less chance we have of authoritarian rule; and b.) Everything goes in cycles. The pendulum will swing back.
That includes the Mitch McConnell Rule. When he said in 2008 that he would “oppose every single thing President Barack Obama proposes,” well, what goes around comes around, Mitch.
Turnabout’s fair play. But it can also be childish.
So, here’s your homework assignment for tonight: listen to The Other Side. You don’t even necessarily have to talk to them. Just listen. Dems, turn on Rush and Fox. Repubs, watch Rachel Maddow. Take deep breaths. Acknowledge that you aren’t always correct, and find at least one agreement upon which you can build a civil future. Repeat. I will offer a grade of “E” for Effort. Extra credit: actually become friends with your enemies.
As for me, I’m gonna go put on some Crosby, Stills & Nash, and listen to my favorite lyric: “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” That’s my common ground.
• Scott Koepke is the Education Director for Grow: Johnson County, a hunger relief farm in Iowa City. He also volunteers at two local correctional facilities, Oakdale IMCC and the Linn County Juvenile Detention Center