We are not each other’s enemies

Letter to the Editor

Dear voters,

     I started thinking about this when no one had called the election except President Trump; while I’ve reflected that has changed, but it is irrelevant to my point. I am trying to talk to the people on both sides of the political fence who think of those on the other side as the enemy. I am a liberal. But I am not a socialist, I do not hate America, and I do not think every Trump supporter is a racist. Yes, some Democrats are socialists, some people on the left have anger issues, and some progressives do see conservatives as the enemy. Not all Democrats, however; furthermore, it is easy to modify these three generalizations and make statements that are true about some conservatives. Let me elaborate.

     Much of the socialism disconnect stems from how one defines the term; Cuba and Venezuela are very different from the Scandinavian versions. Bernie Sanders champions the latter, but even the dreaded Rep. Ocasio Cortez does not want to remake the U.S. as Venezuela. Most people who rail about American policies or actions love this country very much and want to make it better; almost all of us can agree that our founders made the best deal they could, but slavery is wrong. There is no perfect past; humans are imperfect, which contaminates every institution they create. If Left and Right are enemies and compromise is taboo, then war is the answer and one half of the world needs to conquer the other. I see this as ludicrous, and can only see it as viable for someone who believes in some Utopia.

     Most of us, on both sides, believe that the only practical path is to find a workable middle ground. To me, this requires realizing that both sides have a piece of the truth. As the liberal who started this letter, I’ll go first: First, fear of big government is reasonable; certainly the founders of this country had government tyranny as their biggest concern. Second, fiscal responsibility is part of our obligation to the future; while government debt has been very large at times in the past, it cannot grow unchecked without disaster. Third, personal responsibility is essential; it is the flip side of freedom. There are others, but my point is that both sides have a piece. What do liberals or progressives have right?

     First, the nation unfettered capitalism before; it peaked in the 1890s. We the people did not like it; in response came the Progressive Movement of that day, government regulation, and the rise of labor unions. Much of the last 30 years has been driven by the conservative belief that these were overdone. There is probably some truth in that, but no one who has read Dickens argues those changes should never have happened. Big Business is no more trustworthy than Big Government. (I am not claiming that Small Businesses or Governments are more ethical; they are just less powerful and have less distance between top and bottom, which can encourage empathy.) We must argue about the balance between capitalism and government; we won’t entirely agree, but we must find something the majority can live with that does not treat the minority as cattle. I’m not comfortable with some of the things my taxes support, but that’s just part of the price.

     Second, racism is real. I am embarrassed to admit that I have seen a young black man driving a certain kind of car and had thoughts that may not have been fair. Racism is, in part, a piece of a larger problem: We humans tend to decide that if a fact that is true for some members of a category, it must be true for all members of that category. The sheep I’ve seen were white, so all sheep are white. If you haven’t seen many sheep, that leap can seem very reasonable. Maybe the fact is true for almost all members of the category; if so, leaping from the generalizations to the universal is even more tempting. Of course, the same impulse that can lead me to a false conclusion about a particular young black man, can also lead me to say something stupid about conservatives. I see some very inflammatory conservative columns in newspapers, but it’s unreasonable to tar all conservatives with that brush. Either way, it’s the same logical flaw. We all have that impulse in everything we see. Fight it; phrase a generalization properly: “Some” or “most” or “as far as I know” as appropriate.

     On the other hand, I think that some progressives have forgotten that many white people have also been left behind by the economic developments of the last 45 years. On average, it hits people of color harder, but I was still young when the rate of rural poverty exceeded that of urban poverty. One reason I call myself a liberal instead of a Democrat is that I think the Democratic Party of the last 30 years has failed to recognize and respond to that sufficiently. In my youth, many states were obstructing efforts to solve problems, and we saw national government as the solution. For good reasons. That does not mean that every problem is best solved nationally. For example, a barely living wage in Manhattan would be more comfortable in many rural areas.

     Please remember as I live here in Trump Country: I am not your enemy. When people like Mr. Limbaugh urge “No compromise” it means I must be defeated, conquered. That is not the same as saying I must be killed, but there are people who want to take those last steps. Please find people of the other side from you who will talk responsibly. Tell them you disagree and why, not that they’re wrong; then listen to their reasons and explain why you disagree. When partial truths are presented as absolute, keep your temper and suggest that possibility. Responsible people will return the courtesy.

K.R. Knopp

Monticello, Iowa


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