Throughout the evening, neighbor-to-neighbor exchanges were tinged with disparagement of one another’s political views—all in jest, of course.
Confronted by one of the more vociferous attendees—one known for daily “send-all” opinion pieces that I had long before tagged as “junk”—I, too, resorted to standard bumper-sticker comebacks. Those glib retorts now echo in my mind with embarrassment.
Was I too unprepared to explain the whys and how’s that formed my own convictions, or too closed minded to ask about his? Was it “good manners” that made me reluctant to become involved in direct engagement at a social gathering, or was I simply too cowardly? In retrospect, I wonder if I had asked for an opinion that went beyond the superficial spin, whether we could have found common ground.
Sept. 11 is a significant date in the history of the United States of America. Following the tragedy, there was a brief time of national cohesion, possibly the greatest in my lifetime. George W. Bush did an exemplary job of holding the nation together in the aftermath. A decade later, however, any comforting feelings of unity had been replaced with sound bites and spin, as seen in the social microcosm of that evening.
Recalling the visual memories of 9/11, I am struck by the parallel collapse of national unity in the fires of partisanship. Theoretically, partisanship is healthy. What is unhealthy is the reduction of political thought to slogans designed to demean any opposing viewpoint. Caught up in the eddying currents of spin politics, the exchange of ideas and the interest in working for the common good is sinks out of sight.
Could it be that the intensity of the trauma of 9/11 has left us mute as well as deaf? Are we, as a nation, still too emotionally scarred to reveal our personal thoughts and to be willing to listen to another’s beliefs? How much easier—and safer—it is to avoid discussion when we can allow the important content of political thought to be reduced to the latest talking points developed by think tank advertisers. But isn’t it a cop-out to simply adopt the latest broad-brush condemnation of “the other side” and turn deaf ears to all divergent views? To see enemies everywhere?
For myself, I am tired of the mindset that allows me to reduce my strongest beliefs about my civil responsibilities to “gotcha” quips. Obviously, party time-banter will not be replaced by serious dialogue, nor should it. However, it’s time I applied the Thumper Theory to my party manners. “If you can’t say something nice (or at least intelligent), don’t say anything at all.”
Carolyn Wiley lives in Longbranch.