Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

November 18, 2012

HOPKINS: Some civility is in order for the U.S.

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — I’m curious to see how people in the United States react to politics over the next four years. If the last two years are any indication, the great divide many of us have allowed to be driven between us will grow even wider. It could get to the point where we may never be truly unified for any cause again; there is very little civility left in this country.

The amount of money spent for mostly negative political campaign ads was disgusting; it ran into the billions. Billions of dollars for mud-slinging, truth-defying PAC — and candidate approved — ads that did nothing to address some real, serious issues that are affecting this country. Both sides were guilty.

Think of how much good could have been done with that money had the donors chosen to give to their favorite charity. Instead, it was used to dumb-down the American populace. And many people bought into it

What we were left with over the last few weeks of the election cycle was what I call a “sandbox mentality.” Many people sank to the level of bratty three-year-olds who don’t want to share the sandbox. They end up throwing sand, toys and whatever else they can at each other until a weary parent separates them, kicking and screaming.

I watched it happen on Facebook, and it got to the point where I only clicked on my personal page because I couldn’t stand to read some of the things that were being said. In this job I deal with politics on a daily basis and I like to use Facebook as an escape; to see what old friends are up to. Instead I faced a barrage of “If you vote for this person, you’re a @*&$%#!” and “all the other side does is lie! How low will they go?”

The funny thing about that last statement is that Democrats and Republicans couldn’t see the lies their own people were spinning. Everyone was too fixated on what the other side said instead of offering real, manageable solutions to problems.

Come 2016 — if Facebook is still relevant — if I see the battle lines being drawn in the sand, I’m deactivating my account until after the Jan. 2017 inauguration.

Remember that famous early 1980s photo of President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill working together? We won’t see a picture like that again for, I bet, easily 20 years and perhaps longer. That’s how divided this country has become.

How did we get here? I blame the Republicans for their merciless attacks on President Clinton in the early 1990s. They kept turning up the heat as the decade wore on.

Things got worse during the 2000 campaign. After listening to Republicans gripe about the “pot-smoking” Clinton, we got to hear the Democrats whine about the “coke-snortin’ “ George W. Bush, who won by a couple of hanging chads. Then we head to listen to some elitists proclaim “He’s not MY president.” Funny, for all the terrible things I’ve heard people say about President Obama, I can’t recall anyone ever saying that about him. (Only that he’s not an American or that he’s Muslim, as if that disqualifies him from being president.)

Here at the US&J, I received complaints in the last two weeks that we’re too liberal. Other complaints in the last two weeks said we’re (or I specifically am) too conservative. I column I wrote two weeks ago, that was highly critical of the president, elicited 16 responses. Eight supported me, the other eight did not. Some of the latter were highly offended by what I said. I wonder if I’ll ever hear from some of them again.

I used to subscribe to the National Review, the conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley. One week, in his notes and asides column, Mr. Buckley replied to a letter from a reader who said he was canceling his subscription to the New York Times because he could no longer stand to read their extreme liberal agenda.

Buckley’s response? Don’t cancel it; you have to walk with the enemy (”enemy” was used as an analogy) to truly understand him and to even fortify your own opinion. He also noted there are some talented writers at the New York Times.

A rational answer, with hints of how we should approach our political and daily lives.

My best friend from high school and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. He’s liberal, I’m conservative. Despite that we get along great, so long as we don’t delve too deep into politics. We can talk music, sports and life without any rancor. There are even conservative and liberal ideals to which we both subscribe, to a certain extent. We respect each other and respect our differences. We respect each other’s opinions, even if we don’t agree.

Compare that to a letter to the editor we published a few weeks ago where the writer suggested that we have a right “to confront” elected officials in public.

Confront. Not “debate.” Not “question.” Not “critique.” Confront.

Confrontation does not equate problem solving. It’s simply picking a fight. People are so blinded by rage they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Unfortunately, that’s where the United States stands today. Fifty-three percent on one side, 46 percent on the other and the other one percent wishing there were more people like themselves.

If we could all walk with our “enemies,” this country would be far better off.

John J. Hopkins is the managing editor for the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. His column appears on Sundays. Contact Mr. Hopkins at john.hopkins@lockportjournal.com.

John J. Hopkins is the managing editor for the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. His column appears on Sundays. Contact Mr. Hopkins at john.hopkins@lockportjournal.com.