Paul Hauck: A point of near unity
I was overjoyed to read the introduction to Dr. Rebane’s column of April 3, “Farewell to unity in America.” In it he describes the world he wants for his children as “made up of liberal sovereign nation-states living and trading in peace, working together on big projects such as reaching for the stars, while learning best practices of governance from each other … (remaining) … the shining city on the hill with an inviting culture that honors our best traditions, rewards meritocracy, promotes the individual, prudently regulated capitalism, and opportunity for all its citizens under a constitutionally minimalist government.”
Amazing. An article about unity in which a self-described “conservatarian” elucidates a vision of America that I, a self-described, unreconstructed 1960s liberal, could find no disagreement with. He articulated his ideal in exactly the terms I would use if I wrote as well as he does.
But then I read the rest of the commentary. In it he goes about creating the problem that justifies the first two words of his title.
He proceeds to engage in broad-brush, entirely fictional, caricaturizing of his “neighbors of the Left.” As one who resides in that section of his neighborhood, I resent being so grossly misrepresented. It’s an experience I have regularly. It’s as if conservatives (though I don’t exempt liberals from this same vice at times) never bother to listen to what liberals actually say and, instead, listen to what Sean Hannity and Breitbart and One America say we say.
Obviously I can’t speak for all liberals. But I think my views are fairly representative of most, excluding the most radical (the left-wing extremist equivalents of the right’s QAnon adherents).
If we want a “serious rather than specious” invitation to unity, we are going to have to give up the gratuitous demonizing of people with differing opinions, the recreational name-calling that passes for dialogue, and the shadow boxing that abstract generalizations generate.
There are many problems and even some solutions upon which Americans hold broad agreement. Yet the very binary choice that Rebane sets up obstructs action on even these.
Purely as an example, repeated polls (yes, I respect the science of polling) reflect that Americans want to reduce gun violence by keeping weapons out of the hands of violent criminals and those whose mental illness is likely to make them dangerous. To this end, upwards of 85% support universal background checks before one can purchase a gun. (I maintain that you can’t get that many Americans to agree on what day it is.)
So this is a point of near unity. Almost all Americans want this. It might be a good idea or a terrible one. It might reduce gun violence. It might increase gun violence. Who knows? But we are largely unified on the desire to try it. And yet the discussion of this topic begins and ends when someone says, “Our neighbors on the left want to take all our guns away.”
It doesn’t matter that that statement is not true. The fear it engenders when repeated on various media outlets and social media drowns out an accurate perception of the facts, as well as spurring a surge in gun and ammunition sales. As a result, the rational 80% are held hostage by the noisy extremes. It seems that in these moments the left and right cannot even agree to agree.
There are many issues that when focused on independently, elicit agreement from a majority of Americans: taking action that would protect the status of undocumented people brought here as children (Dreamers), passing a law to fund repairs of infrastructure including broadband internet to rural areas, funding universal preschool education, etc.
Too often the wishes of the majority of Americans are victims of the ideological purists’ battlegrounds. But perhaps if we were willing to stop attributing malign motives and evil intent to others we could ease back from this deadlock. If we stopped pursuing these wild, conspiratorial fantasies, we might find time to pick up a hammer and fix something, together, in unity.
Paul Hauck lives in Penn Valley.
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