Breaking down hyper-partisanship and polarization: it gets personal

I have traveled around in rural areas some after Donald Trump’s election and presidency, and often I have found people not too concerned about Trump’s (to the media) rather glaring leadership integrity problems, with allowing criticism. Perhaps some people buy the idea that a leader needs to have the confidence of his base that the leader can withstand criticisms and challenges and “protect” his own people. I’m personally not wired that way. My attitude is, do the math and solve the problem (or, “solve the dump” as they used to say at work with production abends in overnight computer data center cycles).

I didn’t find that people really bought the “fake news” stuff – the birtherism, or the rumors of sex rings (the Comet Ping Pong fiasco). The one issue that got mentioned sometimes was health care . Some younger adults with heavy dent – student loans – simply cannot afford mandatory coverages and Obamacare premiums. Yes, if I was in office, I would to the math and solve the problems and fix it. But I don’t know how to ask for money to run for office, because I don’t personally walk in other people’s shoes. I watch, observer, and journal, but I don’t always play. Oh, yes, I ought to play rated chess more often, maybe get better at winning again (holding those endgame leads like a bullpen closer) and maybe offer to direct tournaments for underprivileged kids. Maybe get the Washington Nationals to have a chess event. It would be good for the players.

On July 2, the Wall Street Journal ran a big article by Amanda Ripley, “America, Meet America, Getting Past our Toxic Partnerships”. The writer starts with the extreme hyper partisanship (augmented by gerrymandering) in our culture today – it’s getting downright dangerous when you get to issues like the debt ceiling (which, by the way, absolutely must be raised by October). She claims that the partisanship is personal. It’s a kind of xenophobia that turns, ironically, into oikophobia, rather like rain on the snow.

The article expands on foreign student exchanges with an account of domestic experiments where people in rural areas or red states go to spend summers with families in blue states or cities, or vice versa.

I have two gut reactions. One is that mainstream churches are still focuses on overseas outreach. Sometimes this challenges the law, as with some efforts to shelter undocumented immigrants in border states run by some faith-based groups. Often, this consists of youth programs in Central America and sometimes Africa. I noted in the previous post how this came come across. Church groups have often sent youth to volunteer domestically after floods (ranging from Katrina to West Virginia deluges) and found being of real help harder than it seems – sometimes the people that live in these areas (especially the mountains), with their prepper lifestyles, are more self-sufficient than we give them credit for.

The other is that, closer to home, we really don’t walk in others’ shoes very much. Look at what I ran into when I started looking into whether I could personally host asylum seekers – an effort put on hold now as I consider possible relocation myself (I’ve “announced” this on Facebook). There was a great dependence on social capital, belonging to a group of people with some degree of personal fungibility, which is foreign to me. Because of the legal environment and lack of certain structures (compared to how refugees are handled) there is more persona risk for the people who would assist unless they are already bound into a social group. Really, a lot of early activism in most areas (race and later gay rights) sometimes worked this way, even though I never wanted to deal with it on a group level. The irony is that belonging to a group (especially a “resistance”) means connecting to people with different kinds of cognition in novel ways, something Paul Rosenfels had called “creativity” at the Ninth Street Center back in the 1970s.

I think a recent column by “do good” David Brooks “Getting Radical about Inequality,” where he talks about the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu, seems to apply here. As David says elsewhere, we have to live with the fact that right now the free world is led by a child. And, no, blind loyalty to a “leader” does not come across as an essential moral value to me.

(Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

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