Part 2: What’s next?

Yesterday’s post addressed a topic that has been getting a lot of attention in the media and may have implications on the upcoming midterm elections, but the so-called “angry electorate” is not easy to measure, judge or define. I’ve been asking myself a question that is equally difficult to measure about the political future of this country.  I can trace it back to the Presidential election in 2000.  Half (or a little more than half) the country was upset about how the election was ultimately resolved.  But before they could really turn that dislike into activism or political disruption, the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01 occurred and President Bush had significant leeway for the next few years.  Arguably, the feeling carried through 2004 and it wasn’t until 2005 and later that Democrats and moderates were able to express their concern and react to the entirety of the Bush legacy.

That reaction was swift and strong making the 2008 elections seem more like a battle between Democrats for who would win the White House.   The reaction to President Obama’s election was equally strong and has given rise to claims ranging from ridiculous (Obama is not an American citizen) to bitter (Obama is a socialist).

Which got me thinking. How far apart are Democrats and Republicans in this country and which direction are they moving?  My immediate reaction is that the political parties are farther apart than ever before and the Republicans are getting more conservative while the Dems more liberal.   On the other hand, this could easily be the reaction of anyone whose political memory is only about 16 years old.  I bet most people come of age and think that the older generations are doomed and we’re farther away from compromise than ever before.  While I certainly feel that way now, I’ve been trying to decipher whether the two parties really are mortal enemies or whether this current animosity is “a phase.”

I want to believe that the country is transitioning between generations and settling into an understanding of technology’s impact on society.  To do that, Americans need to decide either what we believe and what our priorities are or we need to figure out how to get along and work together in the context of very different values.  This sounds so idealist and naïve as if I’m asking “can’t we all just get along?” But that’s not what I’m asking at all.  I understand people have strong beliefs and that’s what makes this country great.  I’m hoping that this period of animosity is actually being blown a bit out of proportion by the Tea Partiers, the Glenn Beck types and the cable news media.

I’m asking for some resolution one way or the other because it’s frustrating and unproductive to continue bickering the way we are right now.  Let’s assume for a second that the two parties will continue to get farther apart and that coming together on “American values” is a thing of the past.   The remaining option, as I see it, is to figure out how to work together.

Working together doesn’t mean miraculously agreeing on important social and political issues, it means no longer using the government as a tool of morality.

I’d like to see the government move away from enforcing values or being the battlefield for America’s conscience and move toward a model where the government is more like a referee.  The country is getting too diverse and representing too many people for the government to remain the standard of what American values are at any given time.  Whether you worry, think, or pray about America, it doesn’t make sense to allow the government to represent or dictate what we believe.  Once Americans allow the government a foot in the proverbial moral door, the government then becomes the standard for what we support as a country.  Since that has pretty much already happened, the issue becomes whether we want the government to represent the values of whichever party happens to be in power or the government is as values-neutral as possible in an effort to equally protect everyone.

For many years, most Americans have looked to the government to make the moral and social changes needed to reflect the original values this country was built on.  This worked well when the country was smaller and more homogenous than it is now.  These days it has become almost impossible for the government to reflect all the diverse values represented in the American people.  As a result, we should stop trying to change the values of the country each time the political leadership switches and instead find ways to remove the government from the values debate and let people choose for themselves.  I’m not sure if that’s radical or not.

In some ways, most Americans can live however they want and the government doesn’t impact their day-to-day lives.  At the same time, there are many Americans where this is not the case. We have these epic debates and knock down drag out fights about whether the government should be involved in some aspect of American live or business.

So, we’ve come to a period where we may be experiencing a short-lived battle over which direction America is headed or we might be in the midst of a new normal.  A normal that says we’ll continue to move farther apart and the battles will get uglier.  I hope that’s not the case, but our politicians do not appear to be attempting to work together (especially if you believe the media).

We’ve had periods like this before and we’ve worked through them.  Here, we can acknowledge the shift that’s occurring and actively direct the future of the country.  If we’re not careful we might be allowing the country to be directed either by a vocal minority or a media perception that’s not entirely accurate.  Either way, we should pay attention.

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