Friday, August 28, 2009

The End of Civility

In following the ongoing debate over universal health care in America, I have been led to conclude that America is a divided country again.

We have been divided before: the Civil War, Vietnam, even the war in Iraq. It seems to me that each new division takes just a little longer to heal, and the time of relative unity in between grows a little bit shorter, if it exists at all.

I blame talk radio for a portion of this. It sounds silly to say that, but talk radio does seem to set the tone for what passes for discourse in this country. That tone has grown increasingly shrill in recent years. Nothing and no one can be trusted anymore, it seems. For a long-time idealist like me, that is a hard world in which to live.

Talk radio is likely not the cause of this loss of civility; rather, it is probably but a symptom. However, like a parasite, it continues to feed off of this social unease and distrust. Like an opportunist, it fuels those negative emotions rather than looking for or promoting solutions. Talk radio feeds on the fears of people concerned about how something might affect them individually without ever looking at how something might affect or even benefit us societally and without ever offering a rational alternative.

It has long been said that politics is dirty business and that people interested in a life in politics had to be willing to get down in the mud. For most of our existence, most of that mud was controlled and contained in back rooms and more often than not a middle ground was eventually found.

These days, the mud is slung freely and indiscriminately, hitting anyone and everyone in its path. As a result, the middle ground is lost to us because we cannot even see it, let alone reach it. Personally, I feel unclean.

Years ago, Rodney King asked the often-spoofed and ridiculed question: "Can we all get along?" The question appears to have been answered once and for all. Sadly, the answer appears to be no.

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