By Ellison Wade
Western North Carolina isn’t a place many would search for reasonable debate on the widening partisan divide affecting our country. In general, people out here have pretty much made up their minds. This is Trump territory. Growing up in a family of Democrats, I’ve gotten used to being the nagging blue voice lost in a red sea. People in my small town still have trouble with gay marriage, an issue more urban areas see as all but decided (in favor of liberals). The 2016 election, if nothing else, provided me with a great deal of introspection. These cracks I see forming in the foundation of our democracy, how often was I swinging one of the hammers to help form them with my unwillingness to compromise?
For the longest time I blamed only the Conservatives for everything wrong in this country. I focused 100% of my vitriol on those who I perceived as “uneducated hicks.” I’ve recently been asking myself where this uncompromising push back has gotten me. Quite frankly, it got me Trump.
I posit a quote from the film Men In Black, as delivered by actor Tommy Lee Jones: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.” I’ve let this quote wash over me more times than I care to admit, and it holds true to me so very much because the area where I live and grew up is so starkly in contrast of where I am, politically. It’s easy for me to generalize my neighbors as “idiots” when I look at them as herds of cattle, rather than on an individual level. These rural people I have belittled for the better part of my life, often times are fairly reasonable people, when conversing one on one. More to the point, I find when discussing politics in a closer and more confidential setting, my non-descript conservative neighbor and I both want similar things from our representatives. The problem rarely outs itself when we are discussing the problems we’re facing person to person. It only becomes a screaming match when we take shelter under our respective partisan umbrellas. It makes me wonder if our respective parties are less about identification of who we are and more about shielding our egos.
I’m a Democrat. I don’t plan to change that in the foreseeable future. I believe in the importance of affordable healthcare. So do most conservatives. The problem, I don’t think, is that we disagree morally on whether or not we should have affordable healthcare. We all want it. The discussion only becomes indignant when we point to partisan solutions. I laugh at the term “health savings account” and my hypothetical conservative neighbor cringes at the thought of a public option. “Socialism” he’d most likely yell.
As of this point, I don’t know of any solution to that problem, admittedly. We don’t seem too keen on the idea of coming out from our partisan safe-zones at this particular point in time. But I wonder if maybe a good place to start would be recognizing that we as Americans are pretty much all looking for similar outcomes. We all want a comfortable life, an affordable doctor, a decent education for our children, and a nice heavy porter when the mood hits us. Or maybe it’s just me who likes porter. Maybe you prefer pilsner. Maybe you’re not a beer person at all. Maybe you want a whiskey, or wine. Regardless of what you use to take the edge off after a particularly stressful day, I think it’s safe to say the whiskey people would have a fair gripe if we tried to make beer the only standard for alcohol consumption. There’s a metaphor for bipartisanship in there somewhere.
Why is bipartisanship so easy to understand, yet so difficult to achieve?