Editor’s column: Let’s listen to the other side
Increasingly, Americans live in political bubbles and rarely hear other perspectives.
Research shows that people of like political mind are clustering together — in the 2012 election, the vote for president between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was within 5 percentage points in only 275 of the nation’s 3,143 counties, according to a the Pew Research Center.
On the other side of the coin, 912 counties were “landslide counties” where 70 percent of the vote went to one candidate or the other. Of those counties, 807 went heavily for Romney, but Obama’s 105 landslide counties accounted for more votes — he won in 84 of the nation’s 100 most populous counties.
It’s an example of Pew findings in 2014 of a growing ideological divide both in the types of places people would like to live and where they actually live, with liberals more often preferring cities and conservatives favoring small towns and rural areas.
This shows up even in places we eat — liberals are more likely to eat at P.F. Chang’s and conservatives are more likely to patronize Cracker Barrel, for example.
On this opinion page, we are aiming to be more like Red Robin, not in quality of food, but in the fact that the burger place is favored equally by liberals and conservatives.
It only makes sense for us to seek this balance — Garfield County was in that 9 percent of counties nationwide where Romney (51.3 percent) and Obama (46.3) were within 5 percentage points.
In my two years-plus here, I’ve grown fond of saying Glenwood Springs is a pivot point, literally and politically, for the county, the turning point off of I-70 and a fulcrum between Carbondalesque liberalism and Riflish conservatism. I think Glenwood’s more even balance makes our local politics generally civil and relationships in town generally polite.
Most but, interestingly, not all readers realize that I lean liberal, but I’m not running a little print version of Fox News or MSNBC here — and I consider both of those cable networks to be part of the problem with our civic discourse.
A few months ago, I took stock of our column offerings and was dissatisfied with our liberal tilt. I recruited for new community columnists who lean right.
While I don’t expect these new columnists to make conservatives think the PI or the big, bad media at large are on their side, I consider it my obligation to seek balance.
To my surprise, some liberals haven’t liked this approach. The same Pew research that shows our growing division found that liberals, while growing less tolerant of the other side, were a bit less militant about it than conservatives.
So I thought you lefties out there could swallow hearing how some folks think differently from you.
But one Facebook commenter attacked new conservative columnists’ work as “lazy writing”; another said “James Kellogg and this xenophobe are the best the Roaring Fork has to offer in ‘conservative’ thought??”
A third wrote, “You have two very extreme left local columnists and somewhere around five or six local right-wing columnists who, by the way, don’t always get their facts right. Come on, Essex! Your political bias is really showing.”
That must be the bias evident when I write things like, “Trump and his ilk are merely trying to scare us so they can glorify and ultimately enrich themselves. They are the snake oil salesmen of this July 4 celebration. Don’t buy their phony elixir.”
Folks, here’s a big secret: I don’t agree with everything conservative-leaning Roland McLean, Bryan Whiting, Glenn Beaton, Mitch Mulhall or James Kellogg says.
Nor do I agree with everything left-leaning Randy Fricke, Mary Boland, Hal Sundin or Jessica Cabe says.
Sometimes, I cringe at a paragraph here or there and have to think hard about whether to leave in those uncomfortable assertions.
But they make me think. And one thing I think is that if we listen and read only those opinions with which we already agree, we don’t grow, we don’t find areas of genuine agreement and we don’t find avenues for compromise.
If all we do when we encounter viewpoints contrary to our own is try to shout them down, we are closing our minds and helping maintain bitter divisions that threaten our social contract.
Thus I think it’s critically important for each side to try to understand how the other thinks. In Facebook exchanges with conservative friends, I’ve seen how quickly we can find agreement on premises such as the fundamental corruption of our political system involving both major parties. Our conclusions usually differ, but when we realize we are at the same starting point, our conversation softens and we tend to look for other points of agreement.
At our core, Americans share many values. We should start there and strive to respect each other more than, perhaps, we think the other side deserves.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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