There isn’t much the country agrees on these days. In fact, it has not been this deeply politically divided on so many issues in its history.
In the 1960′s, the Vietnam War and civil rights issues divided us on social and moral grounds. In the 1950′s, right-wing segregationists and anti-Communist paranoia disrupted the sense of unity and purpose that came out of our victory in WWII. Before that, we need to go back to when slavery drove the country into the Civil War to find a time when Americans were so bitterly divided.
Politicians say they want to build bipartisanship, that America’s needs can be met only when both sides cooperate to solve our many problems. That being so, it’s worth asking what stands between our present state and attaining consensus. I submit that political divisions such as we see today are a symptom, not the cause of today’s extreme polarization.
The spread of misinformation on social media is often cited as a contributor to polarization; to be sure, the recipes Twitter and Facebook use to determine which messages you see push you into the tribe of your preference. Talk radio, especially the inflammatory Alex Jones and the late Rush Limbaugh, are echo chambers for your tribe. They only widen the gap without giving any insight into why the gap is there in the first place.
I suggest that the main problem is the failure to accept the truth.
Consider the insurrection of Jan. 6. There is no evidence that the election was rigged or that there was any systemic election fraud. To say that there was, knowing the facts, is a lie. Former President Donald Trump and his surrogates invented the lie. They pushed it, and his supporters bought it.
Had Trump and his congressional allies done the right thing and told the truth, the nation would have been spared the Jan. 6 events. Political divisions would still exist, but acknowledging the truth might have made it easier for Congress to deal with the many other issues facing our nation.
The nation is in the middle of another wave of infections and deaths caused by the coronavirus and its variants. It is a fact that people getting vaccinations are less likely to get COVID-19. The facts show that more than 99% of COVID deaths are among unvaccinated people. It is a fact that vaccinations save lives.
In Texas, the COVID-19 infection rate in Democratic-leaning counties averages about 40 per 100,000; in rural, Republican-leaning counties, that rate is over 100 per 100,000.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Aug. 26 banning all government entities in Texas from requiring proof of vaccination. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a Republican-sponsored bill to fine businesses $5,000 if they ask people for vaccination certifications. Florida’s COVID-19 hospitalization rates skyrocketed from 1,800 in mid-June to more than 15,000 this week, an astonishing 830% increase in less than three months. Thousands of preventable deaths occur where politicians like Abbott and DeSantis deny facts about COVID-19 vaccinations.
Hurricane Ida cut a path of destruction from Louisiana to New York killing dozens and causing billions of dollars in damage. This year, wildfires in western states have burned more than 4.8 million acres; in Canada, more than 10 million acres went up in smoke, and even in chilly Siberia wildfires burned around 3.7 million acres. July 2021 was the hottest month in recorded history. It reached a record 130 degrees on July 9 in Death Valley. The facts are clear: human activity has pushed global temperatures up to where climate change is here to stay.
Unless we act now, monster storms, massive fires, and flooding will become unavoidable. In 1970, Annapolis had about 10 flood days per year. Now, it’s 40. In another 20 years, rising sea levels will cause more than 100 flood days per year. The tens of billions of dollars we spend today to cope with climate change will grow to hundreds of billions in a very few years. Nearly one in five Americans deny the reality of climate change or believe humans have nothing to do with it; 135 members of Congress and the Senate, all Republicans, voted against actions to address what the U.S. military called “an urgent and growing threat to our national security.”
The people who deny the truth about Jan. 6 are the same ones who deny the facts regarding climate change and COVID-19 vaccinations. A necessary first step to close the chasm of public opinion dividing our nation is for people to accept the truth. Only then can we move forward to deal with these and other wicked problems. Without agreement on what’s so, there’s no hope for returning to one nation indivisible.
Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org