Originally Published: April 21, 2018 5:59 a.m.
Not too long ago, an anonymous commenter on one of my columns concluded that I took my stance on a particular issue because I “hate conservatives.”
A couple of days later, a progressive friend who wanted to warn me about a hateful tweet aimed at a Muslim lobbying day at the Pennsylvania Capitol, jokingly observed that she tried to keep her feed “a happy bubble of the like-minded” but this one had slipped through.
These two incidents speak volumes about where we are as a country these days. We’re deeply entrenched in our own world views, taking comfort among those who agree with us, and peering cautiously over the battlements at those who believe differently from ourselves.
The schism is years in the making. But it feels more pronounced now in a time where bias confirmation is king, and whole communities of the like-minded (on the left and right) are no further than a click away.
An October 2017 Pew poll found fewer Americans, in the time of peak Trump, harbor a mix of conservative and liberal viewpoints than they did during the Bush era in 2004.
Overall, not quite a third of Americans (32 percent) now take a roughly equal number of conservative and liberal positions, that’s down from 38 percent in 2015, and off the cliff from the 49 percent who did in 1994 and 2004, Pew pollsters found.
“Reflecting growing partisan gaps across most of the individual questions in the scale — even those where both parties have shifted in the same direction,” Pew pollsters concluded. “Republicans and Democrats are now further apart ideologically than at any point in more than two decades.”
I’ve written at length about the breakdown in our culture when it comes to agreement on the basic facts that underlie our political debates, and the corrosive effect that social media has on our shared dialogue.
And now that we know that foreign agents were actively working to inject misinformation into the 2016 campaign, maybe that breakdown is more easily explained. Though it’s no less unsettling.
Still, in the five-plus years since I made the jump from being a political beat reporter to an opinion columnist and editorial writer, I’ve been struck by this notion, harbored by some (on the left and right alike) that it’s no longer enough to merely disagree with someone, you have to “hate” them as well.
The premise that I hate conservatives is laughable on its face. And though It feels ridiculous to even have to say it loud, I’ll say it anyway: “No, I don’t hate conservatives, I disagree with them.”
That’s because hating someone requires you to actually know them. And I have too many friends from across the spectrum for that ever to be the case.
Yes, my conservative friends and I disagree on matters of policy. And, yes, we debate those policy points vigorously. But we’re just as likely to kick back on our bar stools and talk about shared interests in film, music, books, baseball and, oh yeah, our children and families.
One of the great perks of my job as an opinion page editor is that I get to read — and publish — some of the best opinion journalism from all across the political spectrum.
Sometimes, the stances taken by the writers I publish drive me absolutely batty. Sometimes, they make smile or move me. But I always come away having learned something new, my horizons expanded.
Yet, here we are, with some of us claiming that we “hate” people we’ve never met simply because we disagree on politics, which, as has been observed time and again, isn’t for the faint of heart.
Disagreements about politics have been with us since Pericles.
Still, they can be healthy because the right kind of disagreement results in the kind of compromise that makes for good policy and law. The “my way or the highway” that colors our politics right now isn’t the way forward.
The encouraging thing is that potential solution — actual knowledge — lies no further away than the newsstand, your public library, laptop or your mobile phone.
All you have to do is reach out for it and make an honest effort to engage in ideas different from your own.
It’s no further away than an earnest conversation with someone who disagrees with you. It requires you to actually listen, but the hard work is worth it.
It’s always worth it.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.