There's a guy who stops by periodically to leave nasty comments on my blog. I have no idea why he does it: I mean, if you don't like my blog, don't read it. But he likes to keep reminding me that "the left" is ruining America, and that my blog is just a bunch of "liberal garbage." Of course, he's entitled to his opinion about "the left" in general and my blog in particular, but I still find both comments puzzling.
As I see it, there's no such thing as "the left"-- not every Democrat or liberal marches in lock-step, and no, we don't all take our cues from the (gasp) Saul Alinsky playbook, the way Newt Gingrich and other Republicans say we do. (I must admit I was unfamiliar with Mr. Alinsky until about a decade ago. I mean, yes I heard the name before, but he wasn't someone I studied in college or even in grad school. I guess I received an inferior education in what Democrats allegedly believe.) My point is, there's a wide range of beliefs on "the left," as I am certain there are on "the right."
When I first began blogging several years ago, I hoped that I'd be
able to do two things: thing one was express my views on various
current issues (and for Rush fans, that included talking about our
favorite rock band now and then); but thing two was to create the
possibility of dialogue between folks on the left and folks on the
right. Of course, I never expected that my little blog would bring
about world peace, though that would be nice to accomplish. I just
hoped that maybe some folks who don't talk much to Democrats might come
to the conclusion that this Democrat isn't such a horrible person after
all, nor are most other Democrats. Both political parties don't always
agree on issues, but at least I hoped we could have an exchange of ideas
and seek some common ground.
Ever since Mr. Trump took office, however, I've noticed a change in tone, both in our politics and in how we communicate. Day after day, I read endless postings on social media that demonize "the left." They say we're all violent (umm, I thought we were all a bunch of too-sensitive snowflakes; now suddenly we're violent?). Or they say we're all fascists. Or Mr. Trump says that Democrats are keeping him from moving his agenda forward (Democrats find this a bizarre claim, since Republicans control all three branches of the government. If things aren't getting done, don't blame us.) Meanwhile, every conservative I know is firmly convinced that the media are liberal, and college professors are liberal, and anyone whose views they disagree with must be liberal, and every problem in society was caused by someone liberal. In the age of Donald Trump, it seems more people than ever believe the big problem in life is the existence of liberals.
I know how much conservatives love that Mr. Trump is a "fighter" who "punches back" when people "insult him." But as Democrats like me see it, he's not a fighter; rather, he's an autocrat who doesn't like criticism of any kind. Of course, this is a major difference in our two parties, but at least we always used to have a president who acted with courtesy. This one does not. Whether it's a cable news commentator on MSNBC or a member of the White House press corps or Democrats in general, Mr. Trump is always ready with a rude (or sometimes crude) comment. He shows no interest in staying above the fray or acting in a way that historically was considered presidential; nor does he show any interest in bringing both sides together. He seems perfectly happy to perform only for his base and say what they want to hear. Everyone else is just "the enemy."
More and more, I see many of Mr. Trump's supporters modeling his behavior-- they see no need to talk to anyone on the other side, and they not only applaud the president each time he makes another combative or insulting remark-- they also emulate his way of speaking. And if the folks who are on his side regard everyone else as dishonest, terrible people, it does not bode well for the future of our country. As a professor of communication, I worry when people praise a man who believes name-calling is a good thing; and who believes it's okay to be lash out at anyone who disagrees with him.
It's not just that I don't like many of his policies: I respect that he won the election, and I've disagreed with presidents before. But what I really don't like is how he talks to people. Rather than bringing out what Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature," he is empowering the worst in many of us. And in a world where angry and impulsive behavior is considered normal (and even admirable) by his followers, what's the end-game? Are we becoming a country that is re-segregating itself, not by race this time, but by ideology? We already have a country where people watch/read/listen to media that reinforce what they already believe. Should we now have a country where opposing beliefs aren't wanted?
That's not a vision of America I'd welcome, and it's not just because I'm a Democrat. I would hope there are some Republicans who also don't like the way things are going. Showering insults on those who disagree with you may be comforting; but it's no way to solve the problems our country faces... And no, the problem is not too many Democrats. It's too little kindness, too little empathy, and too little commitment to following the Golden Rule. I admit I don't know what to do about the ever-widening divide between us. But I still want to believe there's a positive discussion we could have-- although lately, that seems like less and less of a possibility.