As the old year ends, it’s customary to reflect on its highlights and low points and resolve that the next year will be better or at least happier. Alas, the highlights were obscured somewhat by political dissent. The nation has become even more bitterly divided politically and positions have hardened. Yet, the economy is booming and businesses are now competing even for unskilled workers, forcing wages upward. Historians will surely note these contradictions with some puzzlement.
Despite polls indicating that Americans believe that they are personally better off now than when President Donald Trump first took office, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey shows a continuing decline in expectations for the next generation as well as a steady decline in national unity since the Iraq War, during which President George W. Bush enjoyed a remarkable 76 percent approval rating among Democrats and 85 percent overall. The same poll showed that more Americans think the nation is on the wrong track than those who think it’s headed in the right direction. If the economy, jobs, wages and standard of living are as important as political analysts seem to believe, why aren’t Americans more optimistic about the future? And why is the sitting president not getting more credit for these things?
The answer seems obvious to me. It’s because of the bitterness and rancor that infect most political discourse. We’ve dealt with polarization in the past but not since the Civil War has it so bitterly divided us. If that was Russia’s objective in interfering with our election campaigning, it has succeeded beyond all its expectations. There are, naturally, mixed opinions as to how and when it all started. I believe the origins were several.
First, the culture on university campuses began to change from one wherein opinions were freely expressed and, if not embraced or even respected, were at least listened to and tolerated. That changed with speech codes, trigger warnings and student/faculty activism in shouting down, or baring altogether, dissenting views. Liberal and progressive ideology was instilled in impressionable students by faculties which, for whatever reasons, were overwhelmingly liberal. Students who dissented from these views often risked ridicule or worse.
Second, the mainstream media moved from reporting news and confining opinion to editorials, opinion columns, op-eds and letters to the editor, to subjective reporting, mixing news and opinion. Many readers fail to discern the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle bias and accept such reporting as entirely factual. Even many of those that recognize the subjectivity and bias, confine their reading and TV viewing to the same sources because the bias matches their own.
Finally, the nominations of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton by their respective parties marked a lowering of the standards previously demanded of those who aspired to the highest office in the land. Both candidates were seriously flawed, presenting voters with a choice between two very bad options. Clinton’s nomination represented a victory of blind party loyalty over good judgment and respect for security requirements and Trump’s was a result of anger with the status quo and American’s infatuation with celebrities, especially colorful ones who demonstrate outrageous behavior and speech. Character should have mattered but voters settled for less. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either.
The new year will find the 2020 election campaign in full swing. I usually offer several suggested resolutions for the new year but this year I have only one. The gravest threat to the national wellbeing at the present time in my view is the bitterness that divides us and the lack of tolerance and respect for the opinions of others that pits friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor and American against American. It has to stop and that begins with each of us.
Happy New Year.