Nation at war -- with itself
February 21, 2010
BY JERRY DAVICH
firstname.lastname@example.org (219) 648-3107
Our country is more politically polarized than a Tea Party protest at
a Jeremiah Wright church service.
Americans appear to be more isolated from one another, more insulated
from opposing viewpoints and more insulted by the notion of any type
We're mutually disgusted, disconnected and disappointed over the
disjointed state of our United States. And politics has become the
new national pastime, overtaking childish, escapist pursuits such as
baseball or shopping.
We don't merely disagree with people who hold differing opinions, we
often dislike them. Hatred is not uncommon, and public civility has
become an oxymoron in America the Belligerent.
Forget the two wars we're fighting in the Middle East. We're now at
war with ourselves amid a widening middle ground of friendly fire casualties.
Left versus right. Wrong versus right. Conservatives versus liberals.
Tea Parties versus political parties. Populists versus socialists.
Obama loyalists versus Obama haters. And on it goes.
Our country's silent majority is being deafened in the land of
loudmouths, and Jerry Springer-type theatrics are now the norm.
Citizens would rather point a finger than make a point. And "You
lie!" is our new mantra.
The Obama factor? The Great Recession? The health care insurance
reform fiasco? Congressional gridlock in Washington, D.C.? Bipartisan
bickering across the nation?
Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's comments last week about a dysfunctional,
polarized Congress -- announced during his shocking decision not to
seek re-election -- put an exclamation mark on what I've been
thinking for weeks.
And it's not a strictly national issue, echoed by state Rep. Chet
Dobis' similar frustration with Hoosier lawmakers last week when he
blasted them on the House floor for dragging their feet on several bills.
"They're not going to take this much longer," he said passionately,
referring to Indiana residents who are fed up with partisan politics
and the lack of progress.
His line echoed the feelings of many people who feel they're being
ignored and neglected.
Take, for example, all the publicly vocal critics at U.S. Rep. Pete
Visclosky's recent forums, which usually attract a handful of
Or the opposing groups who attended the Tea Party gatherings in
Valparaiso, literally shouting at each other from across a street.
There seems to be less common ground than in recent memory, creating
a growing canyon of fear, anger and paranoia. Even people who
otherwise wouldn't care about political issues now have opinions set
Check out the letters to the editor. Check out Web site chat rooms.
Check out area colleges, which are experiencing record numbers for
"It is not like the heyday of the '60s and '70s when we were turning
sociology students away, but it is pretty close. Our students are
much more socially conscious than eight or four years ago," said
Charles Gallmeier, sociology professor at Indiana University Northwest.
I've talked to dozens of Northwest Indiana residents about this
polarizing subject, asking them if we're more divided than ever in
Most agreed. Some didn't. A few refused to reply, claiming I was only
causing trouble by asking. See my point?
Most responders older than 50 said today's hotly contested political
climate is similar to the '60s when civil rights, the Vietnam War,
and counter-culture clashes sparked protests, demonstrations and even riots.
But with the advent of the Internet and other mass-communication
networking systems, it's easier than ever to find like-minded
protesters regardless of your issue or stance.
The old philosophical argument, "I think therefore I am" has
transmogrified into "I opine therefore I am."
Plus, our high-tech 21st-century technology offers us a certain
critical mass to validate and amplify our opinions before possibly
thinking them through.
Let's face it. Any hothead in his parent's basement with a chip on
his shoulder can now start a Web site, form an organization and
recruit other hotheads to create the illusion of a "movement." In
less than 24 hours.
Then again, this is also how the Obama administration created its
successful social-media movement to get into the White House.
It's easy to blame the polarization of our country -- and our region
-- on Obama's first year in office or George W. Bush's eight years in
office, depending on your political leanings.
In fact, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows 41 percent
blaming the nation's deficit problem on the Bush administration, 24
percent blaming Congress, and 7 percent blaming Obama.
But many experts believe this has been in the works for much longer
than either of those two presidencies.
For instance, if former presidents Bill Clinton and George H. Bush
represent the moderate wing of their parties, then Hillary Clinton
and George W. Bush represent the more left-wing and right-wing
factions of their parties, respectively. Essentially, two families in
such a position of power for so long doesn't make for good democracy, I'm told.
This unbalanced plow-share of power can easily be viewed as the
seedlings for a polarized nation today.
A recent study by Indiana University at Bloomington's Department of
Sociology shows that Americans' perceptions of key differences
between the parties have spiked steadily since the 1980s. This has
led to a dramatic increase in political participation, according to
its author, graduate student Kyle Dodson.
"Americans are tracking real changes that are going on with the
parties. Over the past 30 years, they've become polarized in their
policy agendas and people are noticing," Dodson said in a statement.
Dodson said Americans are more socially isolated today than at any
point in the past two to three decades.
"Normally this would depress political participation. But the rise of
partisan politics has given Americans an important reason to get
involved," he said.
People tend to bond with particular views and positions belonging to
various political parties, especially when things get tough. In other
words, we need something to hold onto during a storm of uncertainty.
I wonder if our Founding Fathers would be proud of us or ashamed of us.
I also wonder what they would think of lightning rods of polarization
such as Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Keith
Olbermann, Bill Maher and Michael Moore.
In many ways, these high-profile political pundits can be blamed for
fanning the media-fueled fires of a country ablaze from radicalized opinion.
"It's time for responsible media to step up to the plate," said Gary
Foreman of Valparaiso, who is in the visual communication industry.
"I think many are truly missing the point about the discontent that
is flowing through this nation."
But media outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC also can be credited
with provoking thought -- and action -- from a populace that would
probably rather debate "American Idol" than American politics.
This is the upside to the polarization process. At least people are
sharing a dialogue, albeit one that is too often based on rumors and
fiction, not research and facts.
"I think Americans are actually finding some common ground right
now," said Steve Dalton, a Valparaiso businessman who writes a daily
Porter County Politics blog.
"We need some new terms though. Americans don't want lefty liberalism
and political correctness anymore than they want mean-spirited
conservatism and big brother."
True, but as I tiptoe across this shaky common ground of
understanding, my aim is on the younger generations caught in the crossfire.
Surely they have become disillusioned by all this name-calling,
finger-pointing and mud-slinging. Yet surely they are our best hope
to mend our fractured country.
That is, if they're not too polarized from their original ideals