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Meet Me in the Middle

We have more in common than we think, so I’m done with the whole game of arguing about politics from one side or the other.

In 2004 I was at war with just about everyone in my community.  In the local newspaper—using an anonymous “letter to the editor” feature called “Speak Out,” I dismantled every pro-George Bush argument I read elsewhere in the paper.  Among friends, I was always the one guy sitting at the table, breaking down the details as I saw them regarding WMD, the link between Saddam and Osama, and the fragile nature of supply-side economics.

And the net result of all of that?  Bush won, I changed zero minds, most of my friends politely shrugged me off, and a few were flat-out done with me.  They’d had enough of me long before November had mercifully arrived.

Over the last eight years I’ve witnessed that dynamic from the other side.  Most of it has splashed in front of me on social media: the shared links with Brietbart, The Blaze, and all of those other “news sites” so much farther to the right, they’re dangling over the edge of the cliff.  As I’ve scrolled past them, I’ve caught myself thinking, “So, this is how I sounded to everyone.”  I never experienced a “eureka” moment where I decided to open my mind, and I don’t know when the idea fully coagulated in my brain, but eventually I found myself saying, “The next time the other side wins, I’m not going to be that guy again.”

Now it’s the next time.  I have to choose.  Am I going to stomp my feet, call those who disagree with me stupid, and assault them with every cherry-picked statistic I can cram into my brain?  Or am I going to listen, even if they throw to me the same type of condescending rhetoric I used to ladle all over them?

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We will never solve the world’s problems digging trenches along our ideological front and shelling the other side with labels in insults.  We have to turn to the values we share.  We share much more than we realize.

The answer should be obvious.  In small communities such as mine, we are fellow townspeople first and foremost.  Neighbors secondly.  Hopefully friends as well.  When you share a community with those you dine with, drink with, talk to, play golf with, and live with…you want the same things.  I don’t want anyone in my community to suffer.  I don’t want anyone to go hungry.  I don’t want anyone to die because they couldn’t get proper health care.  I don’t want them to go without basic freedoms because of some government law or corporate policy.  I want everyone to assume the basic responsibility of getting up, going to work, and taking care of the people in the their lives.

When I sat down with DePauw psychology professor Matt Hertenstein, he talked to me about a phenomenon called “confirmation bias.”  Basically, “CB” is the process in which we start an argument or discussion with a preset answer already in our head.  The government is evil and inept.  Big corporations are evil and duplicitous.  That’s why responsible Democrats have long been willing to rationalize Bill Clinton’s philandering.  It’s also why the devoutly moral and religious have found ways to circumvent Donald Trump’s… well, his… oh hell… everything about Donald Trump.

What this means is that we will never solve the world’s problems digging trenches along our ideological front and shelling the other side with labels in insults.  We have to turn to the values we share.  We share much more than we realize, and if we’re willing step back from what either MSNBC or Fox News is telling us to think and actually ask ourselves what we believe, we’ll find that often our world views do not fit so neatly in the pre-packaged platforms offered by Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity.

Let me offer myself for example.  If I were to label myself, I would say that I’m a New Deal Democrat who supports labor over the front office, the government over big corporations.

However…

  • I know a lot people who own guns, who know how to handle them, who know a lot about them, and are pretty good at using them. I’ve used several semi-automatics including a .22, a 9mm, a .45, an AR-15, and a 50 caliber sniper rifle (with a muzzle flash the size of a small car).  It turns out I’m a good shot.
  • People shouldn’t be punished if their lives fall apart (I went through a bankruptcy which I will never openly go into detail about), but at some point they need to stop playing the victim card. A setback isn’t a free pass to do nothing and expect others to take care of you.
  • Gay and lesbian people do not bother me. I don’t think they are sinners.  I don’t think they are evil.  Everyone should have the right to be with the people they love.
  • Big government is bloated, inept, and inefficient.
  • Big corporations are exactly the same as big government.
  • I don’t want to personally pay for my own roads, but I do like the idea of all of us collectively paying for things like roads, police, fire protection, and public education with taxes.
  • Public education did need reform. I resented working with people who were lazy and took home larger paychecks than I did.
  • But Mitch Daniels, Tony Bennet, Mike Pence, and company totally fumbled the opportunity to fix the problem. They merely replaced one bad system with another, and they sold it to the public because it was an easy sell.  It’s going to cost everyone.  A lot.  And they won’t realize it until it’s way too late.
  • The drinking age should be lowered to 18 or the voting age should be raised to 21.
  • The electoral college is an anachronistic gimmick the original Southern states pushed to validate slavery. It needs to go.
  • We’re losing more jobs to automation and technology than we are to trade deals.
  • We need jobs for people who aren’t cognitively able to become tech wizards or entrepreneurs.
  • Evan Bayh and Trey Hollingsworth are both carpet-bagging, opportunistic tools.
  • Supply Side Economics is terrible. Clinton, Reagan, both Bushes, and Obama bear the blame for it.

This is why I’m tired of “fighting from one side,” and this is why I have started walking away from people who try to engage me in a political discussion.  I have discovered that when I try to cut across all these supposedly “contradictory” positions, the people I’m talking to aren’t listening to a word I’m saying.  They’re standing there figuring out how they’re going to deliver the next mass-produced zinger they heard on Fox News.

I’m just done with it.  I’ll be in the middle.  Meet me there if you want to talk.

About Donovan Wheeler

Wheeler proudly teaches AP Literature and AP Language to some bright and lovably obnoxious kids in a small college town. He is the senior editor for the craft beer website Indiana on Tap and writes for ISU’s STATE Magazine. He still believes in the power of government to serve the people…despite everything that’s happened…despite everything.

Featured Image:  Day 50 Occupy Wall Street by David Shankbone is licensed under the Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License.
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