COMMENTARY: I think most people would agree that the current political environment is more contentious, mean-spirited, and even dangerous than it has been in the past. Being that we’re often poor students of history, I’ll leave that debate for another time.
During the previous administration, we saw personal attacks and division among the populace grow. The same seems to be true under the current administration.
But what is the cause of this extremism? What is the driving force behind the violence and vitriol that have become commonplace?
Partisan answers are easy to come by regarding those questions. But partisan answers actually advance the division and make things worse instead of offering any hope of improvement. Those answers come up short. They rely on pointing fingers, rehashing the past, and offering equivalence based on “the other side is worse.”
Justification by comparison to people whose antics are pointed out to be disagreeable is no justification at all.
I don’t think it has to do with the rhetoric or the insults. Those have long been part of our political system and have led to fights on the congressional floor. But they haven’t historically bled over to the general populace, which has historically been better behaved than their elected representatives.
So what is different now? Well, put quite simply, I’d argue that it’s the stakes. The stakes have increased regularly throughout history, and we voted for most all of it. The government that once was limited by the U.S. Constitution has assumed more and more influence in our lives.
Under FDR we decided that the government should provide for our retirement. It was not the government’s business prior, but we decided that was the best thing to do. More recently we decided the best entity to control health care was also the government. We even task our government with the preservation of the very planet we live on, despite the fact it has no dominion over that planet.
We have taken a demonstrably imperfect and ineffective entity, our government, and entrusted our very lives to it — all while fully aware that half the time that entity will be under the control of people who do not agree with our decisions regarding life, health, retirement or environmental impact.
And then we wonder, “Why are people so worked up these days?”
It isn’t an interstate project, taxation or farmer subsidies that we argue now. It is life itself. Ours and our loved ones. Ours and our great-grandchildren’s. It is the very survival of the planet that we are arguing. So then is it surprising that people get emotional?
Being that children will die without government-provided health care, shouldn’t emotions run hot? Of course, children weren’t dying by the millions before the government ran health care. But that is irrelevant when lives are on the line.
The environment wasn’t destroyed before the EPA was formed, but it suddenly can’t survive without the EPA. And Social Security, which wasn’t available for over a century, is now a birthright instead of a supplement to other retirement plans.
We created this by believing exactly what we will mostly agree is false: that the federal government is the most effective provider of goods and services. We point to government deficiencies regarding veteran health care, then ask them to control everyone’s health care. We search for answers for our struggling public school system, then suggest our exceptional private university should be put under the same control. We give more and more control of our lives to the government, then wonder why people are so emotional regarding elections.
We created this monster. We drove ourselves to become the bearers of pitchforks and torches.
Jeff Parsons is a New Mexico State University graduate who now lives in Portland, Ore. He works on air and as a board operator for news, sports and country radio.