Perhaps not even the color of the sky.
It’s blue, by the way.
I work at the local paper, which I consider “progressive” and its worst critics consider a “left-wing, ultra-liberal, quasi-socialist imitation of Pravda.” I have voted for Republicans and Democrats, but I tend to support causes aligned more with this state’s minority party. Statistically speaking, that’s not the case with a majority of Alabamians. If you’re a typical Alabama voter, you’re aligned with conservative causes and Republican candidates.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that.
Without differences and diversity, what would we be?
Problem is, we don’t get along anymore, or so say scientists who study these things. We’re so entrenched in our beliefs that the opposing side is treated like a Hatfield who’s wandered haplessly across the river into Kentucky. Americans of differing political beliefs have always sparred, whether at the town square or on the floor of Congress. Hamilton thought Jefferson’s states’-rights ideas would ruin the country before it began. McClellan (the general and presidential candidate) said nasty things about Lincoln. Congressional Republicans were appalled by FDR’s ideas about Social Security (which worked) and remaking the Supreme Court (which didn’t). As a microcosm of American politics, why should Alabama be any different?
It’s not, obviously. Modern state government is a GOP country club: The governor is Republican, the Senate is Republican, the House is Republican. A few Democrats are allowed in just to keep things fair and square. Dems owned those keys for generations, and now it’s the GOP’s turn — finally, Republican voters have said. Alabamians wanted it this way, and they spoke loudly in the last election. Expect that trend to roll on.
Yet, as a nation — and as a state, I suspect — those of opposing viewpoints are farther apart now than most of us can remember. New data from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press show that Americans’ values and basic beliefs “are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years.”
There is a crack in Pew’s data. It’s only been collected since 1987, so putting any empirical context on today’s political divide isn’t quickly possible. We know what historians say about Americans’ divisions during key times in U.S. history, but statistically it’s more difficult to determine if the conservative-vs.-liberal stranglehold that’s gripped this country is indeed worse than it was in the 1790s or the 1850s or the 1930s. If anything, data from archived Gallup polls confirm the obvious: America’s democracy has always housed people of opposing views. To think otherwise is pure folly.
Nevertheless, the Pew data do show that this modern-day trend toward extreme, entrenched, damaging political polarization intensified during the presidency of George W. Bush and hasn’t slowed. Barack Obama’s election only made it go from a simmer to a raging boil. The result today is a nation where state and national government pass scant game-changing legislation that includes bipartisan support or cross-aisle negotiations.
It’s not about blacks vs. whites. It’s not about native-born vs. immigrants. It’s not about Protestants vs. Catholics, believers vs. non-believers, the well-off vs. the not-so-fortunate. Pew’s surveys show that those differences have remained fairly consistent during the last 25 years. They exist, but they’re not spiking like an Alabama thermometer in August.
Today, it’s about who wins: Rs or Ds? Conservatives or liberals? The right or the left? It’s an ultimate Game of Ideology, above all else.
Debate is good for our souls. It’s cathartic to hear others’ reasoned viewpoints, to listen to those who think we’re wrong, to witness the twinkle in their eye when they talk about what’s important to them. There’s nothing wrong with agreeing civilly to disagree. When we stand on opposite sides of political walls and lob verbal grenades, it creates animosity, not lucid opposition. People of both parties have made that mistake over and over again. In essence, that’s when no one wins.
If Pew is correct, then there is no middle ground. Not in America, and likely not in Alabama, either. Political negotiation is dead. Moderation is neutered.
From here, the sky is blue. Was yesterday, will be tomorrow. And you?
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.