Essex column: We’re Americans and neighbors; let’s act like it
Perhaps the biggest question looming tonight is not whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next president.
Rather, it is this: How do we heal?
We are Americans, Coloradans, residents of our county and town. If we talk with each other and seek to be polite and respectful, we certainly will find that we have much more in common than what divides us.
Yet many of us have allowed ourselves to see those with different worldviews as evil — as libtards or fascists, dumbocrats or Neanderthals.
We aren’t. We’re all human beings and Americans with different life experiences.
As much as the mainstream media has taken a beating in recent years, it’s the partisan media — Fox News, MSNBC, Breitbart, Huffington Post and more — that have moved us away from seeking and valuing facts in favor of constant vilifying of the other side.
These outlets, too, have eroded the strength of the First Amendment by cloaking their profit-driven preaching as news. Walter Cronkite (who in 1968 called the Vietnam War a stalemate and criticized overly optimistic military leaders) couldn’t have gained the status he did in today’s media environment because he would be under constant attack from one side or the other.
Recent research has shown not only that Americans choose to live with like-minded people; we also get our information from sources that validate rather than challenge our point of view.
The Pew Research Center in 2014 found that “When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds. There is little overlap in the news sources they turn to and trust. And whether discussing politics online or with friends, they are more likely than others to interact with like-minded individuals.”
Increasingly, we live in bubbles.
This is not helped by the internet, where information is posted without regard to its veracity or the credibility of its source. Just as two small examples, it was widely posted that Donald Trump once said that if he ran for office, he would run as a Republican because Republicans are easier to fool. Then, in recent days, a meme was shared with a Clinton quote that Trump would be great in politics and had a big role in pulling America out of the Great Recession.
Neither was true.
As a journalist, I was taught to prosecute issues and assertions. If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out, goes a famous admonition attributed to John Bremner, the late University of Kansas journalism instructor.
And through the years, I’ve found great pleasure in digging into the nuance of issues, ultimately reaching the conclusion that the world is mostly gray even as most of us would like it to be black and white, clear-cut, wrong or right. Of course almost all of us want to be clearly right, especially in matters involving politics.
I went to college already sure I wanted to be a journalist and already loving history. During my sophomore year, I took an international relations class that changed my perspective not just on the world, but on how to think about issues. The professor told us what we had learned about the world and history was from a Eurocentric point of view — essentially the narrative of history from the victors of World War II.
But how did China view the Vietnam War or the U.S. rebuilding of Japan after World War II?
How did the Vietnamese view the French, the Chinese and the Americans, all of whom sought to control their homeland?
Why would one perspective be more valid than another?
Today, too few of us are willing to listen even to our fellow Americans who have different perspectives from us.
Large proportions of our population are convinced that electing Trump will wreck the economy, threaten the First Amendment and put us in greater danger worldwide. Roughly equal proportions of Americans are sure that electing Clinton will wreck the economy, threaten the Second Amendment and put us in greater danger worldwide.
This chasm has been assiduously exploited by the partisan media and interest groups that regularly use fear of the other side to fatten their coffers to wage political war and get the policies they want.
We — those of us on both sides — are being played.
We do individually have the power to make a difference.
We aren’t supposed to agree. That artificial unanimity is the hallmark of oppressed societies. But we can be civil. We can talk with those whose views differ from ours. We can agree on some things: Our country’s infrastructure is crumbling, and finding the will to fix it will create jobs, foster innovation and improve the economy for years to come. Our public schools are in trouble, not turning out young people ready for the workplace or building the kind of civic vernacular and knowledge we need to break our deadlock.
Whether on Wednesday we are looking at the certainty of President Trump or President Clinton; Congresswoman Schwartz or Rep. Tipton; DA Caloia, Cheney or McCrory, we will remain neighbors and Americans.
Let’s talk and work on treating each other as such.
Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.
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