Political Polarization and Slippage of Time

The editor of my hometown newspaper claimed that today’s political polarization was the result of extremists on the right and left. She also claimed that those seeking to address climate change were the extremists on the left, comparable to Sarah Palin on the right. Then she asked for rebuttal, but would only allow 400 words in that rebuttal. So I sent a drastically cut-down version to her paper and post the full response here.

I’ll bite on Alpine Avalanche Editor Lisa Hannon’s invitation for alternative views to her description of the political polarization of today. Serious analyses have been done regarding this subject which clearly show a distinct movement farther to the right by Republicans and little or no movement to the left by Democrats.

I recommend reading “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” by Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. These serious political analysts, one on the left and one on the right, agreed that movement rightward by Republicans is the core polarizing factor. They described today’s Republican Party as “…an insurgent outlier- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition”. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck, Dan Patrick, Tom Tancredo, townhall.com, Fox News, World Net Daily, etc., all cases on point! No one on the left is in any way comparable to those on the extreme right who have taken control of our media and the Republican Party.

And I don’t say that with pleasure. I grew up in Alpine at a time when liberals and conservatives took each other to dinner and argued politics ‘til the cows came home yet stayed close friends. They agreed that we needed good government that served the needs of the people; they just disagreed about how to do it. They didn’t demonize anyone and they didn’t shout and talk over others to make their point. Above all, they both believed in science and education and accepted facts. I would love for the Republicans to pull back from extremism, not just because it would make life more sociable and fun, but also because we are all in this life together.

The Editor presented a false equivalency between Sarah Palin and those who insist or dealing with human-caused global climate change. Really? Are the highly educated climate scientists, over 90% of whom agree about climate change, extremists? Science told us too many were dying in car wrecks. We regulated vehicle safety and it worked to reduce the carnage. They said we could go to the moon and we did. They said industrial emissions were causing acid rain; we changed the regs and reduced it. They gave us antibiotics, heart transplants, television, computers and mobile phones. Science and scientists have been right so many times, we should not bet our children’s and grand-children’s future that they are finally wrong about something.

The claim that global climate change couldn’t be a real crisis for us today because at certain times in its history the planet has been warmer or colder leaves out this simple fact: When the earth was at those different temperatures it was not a climate suitable for humans, plants and animals as they exist today. It is not extremist to be very worried about the global effects of the industrial revolution and use of fossil fuels. It’s just plain common sense.

So, where are the extremists of the left that Editor Hannon equates with the right? They don’t exist. Furthermore, scholars of income inequity and societal health have found that, wherever the gap widens between the few at the top of the scale and the many below, this polarization, with it’s distrust, demonization, denial and division, results. Polarization is entirely predictable by our extremely inequitable economy which today is the worst ever in America and worse among Southern states governed by Republicans (like Texas). I wrote an article in 2012 based on the worldwide research finding regarding income inequity which readers can find in books such as “The Spirit Level” (Wilkinson and Pickett), “The Health of Nations: Why Inequality is Harmful to Your Health” (Kawachi and Kennedy), and “The Impact of Inequality” (Wilkinson). By the way, the time I spoke of with nostalgia above was also a time to LOW income inequity and a growing middle class in America.

Ironically, political polarization becomes the major obstacle to reducing income inequity and thus feeds a downward spiral in society. There are actions our government could take right now to reduce economic inequity, but extremists on the right fiercely obstruct them. Why? Because those extremists in the media and politics are funded and supported by those at the top of the economic food chain – billionaires, banksters, multi-national corporations, fossil fuel industrialists – who do not want to see action taken to reduce either economic inequity or global climate change.

This is why I hope thoughtful Republicans and other conservatives will recognize that polarization exists, reject extremists in their midst, and return to seeking real solutions to our considerable problems. “Time keeps on slipping into the future” (Steve Miller Band); the question is will humans be there to see it?

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