I recently had the opportunity to read an Op-Ed piece by, of all people, Charlie Daniels, a country/pop artist who had a couple of hit singles in the '70s. The title of the piece was "Why Can Americans No Longer Agree to Disagree?"
I'll admit that the first three paragraphs were well written and I found myself agreeing with him.
In all my years, living through good times and bad, war, recession, periods of great advancement, social upheaval, the eradication of catastrophic diseases and the myriad of forward leaps and backward slides in this United States of America, I have never seen a time when our population was on such adversarial footing.
The problem is not just disagreement, that always has and always will exist, but it seems that in the past we were always able to find some common ground, with reasonable people on each side of an issue. Through civil discourse, and give and take, negotiations found a path both sides could live with.
I think our forefathers designed our government to make it possible for both sides of an issue to be heard, but look how far that concept has fallen, with congressional leaders not even allowing legislation they disagree with to even get to the floor for debate.
Again, total agreement; you'll get no argument from me on any of these points. We do live in a very polarized nation where "reasonable" people are hard to come by. Unfortunately for Mr. Daniels his "opinion" piece goes off the rails after that. It deteriorates into a one-sided diatribe and, by now, you can surmise where it ends up. Right where most of these arguments go. One by one Charlie Daniels chronicles his list of the ills without acknowledging where the ill originated or that it takes two to tango.
Take global warming, which is Daniels' first pet peeve. It wasn't the liberal side of the spectrum that made this a political firestorm. We simply chose to accept the findings of 97 percent of climate scientists who insist that the science is real and the threat imminent. That doesn't make us anyone's intellectual superior; it just means we defer to those who know better. That is, after all, what so many Republicans keep saying, right? That they're not scientists!
Oh, and just because a senator brings a snowball onto the floor of the Senate in an attempt to prove that it still snows in the winter - which last time I checked no one in the scientific community was disputing - doesn't make his argument valid. It just makes him look silly. We didn't coin the term flat earther, but if the phrase fits...
Next up on Daniels' list is Barack Obama. He insinuates that anyone who criticizes him is described as a racist. That is simply factually untrue. Obama has had many critics on the Left as well as on the Right. Many of them have had valid points to make and the majority of them were cogent and thoughtful without a tinge of racism. But let's face it, there have been racist comments made about this president. To infer otherwise is to be in complete denial. A close look at some of the placards that many Tea Party members bring to their rallies and the plethora of comments on social media and AM radio reveal a disturbing trend in this country that only a blind or deaf person could fail to notice. While I would never suggest that a majority of Republicans are racists, it is quite clear that a majority of racists have found a home in the GOP. The ascendency of Donald Trump proves this.
Regarding the point about all lives matter, I would be amenable to it if all lives were treated fairly under the law. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Blacks make up the majority of inmates in our prisons, they are far more likely to be the victims of police brutality, their income is roughly two thirds of what whites earn, and the unemployment rate for them is more than double the national average. While it may ruffle the feathers of people like Mr. Daniels to hear this, the simple and undeniable truth is that white people in this country have a clear and distinct advantage in every measurable metric you care to discuss. And they have had that advantage since our founding. To insist otherwise is the height of absurdity.
Daniels moves on next to one of the hot topics of conservatives: abortion. I'll admit that this issue is very difficult for me. I have a profound respect for human life and believe it is precious. But it gets a little tiresome to hear the same argument from conservatives that women who are "pro-choice" are by default "pro-abortion." I know of no woman who flippantly decides to end her pregnancy. I can only imagine the anguish that many of them go through. And then to be subjected to the name calling that comes from Mr. Daniels' side of the aisle. Baby killer, slut, whore. Shameful.
To add insult to injury, the very clinics that millions of these women depend on for their birth control, which would stem the tide of unwanted pregnancies and, yes, abortions, are shut down in states by the very men Mr. Daniels believes should have a say in "natal matters." Here's a thought for these men: next time you're having sex with a woman, use a condom. Aside from that, shut the fuck up. The lunatic who shot up a Planned Parenthood was no liberal. He was a far-right conservative who was inspired by a video that was debunked as fraudulent, yet still promoted by the likes of Carly Fiorina. Take that and put it in your pipe.
And then there are the Republican debates, which Mr. Daniels believes have been "incendiary." To quote him, "The moderators have plumbed the ignition points and tried to pit candidate against candidate, resulting in petty arguments about who did what, when and to whom, each candidate trying to one up the other in exposing past mistakes and present failures. Meanwhile, the audience is left wondering if either one is worth voting for."
With all due respect to Mr. Daniels, the moderators of these debates, with the exception of the CNBC one, didn't need to do much plumbing with any of these candidates. They came pre-plumbed and loaded for bear. From Donald Trump's affinity for the internment camps of World War II to Ted Cruz calling for carpet bombing an entire country into the stone age to Chris Christie saying he would be prepared to start World War III, each of the GOP candidates has done their damnedest to one up each other without anyone's help. Even the first Fox News debate was little more than a dress rehearsal for the remake of Animal House. Face it, these candidates know who their target audience is and where their bread is buttered, and that is no one else's fault but the Republican Party's for allowing itself to be dragged so far over to the right that it has to look left just to find the right margin.
Daniels says that "preconditioned ideas, without reason, are a dangerous thing." Point taken. But so are one-sided arguments masquerading as a call for reasonableness. If we are ever to climb out of the enormous hole we've dug for ourselves, we must first realize that, yes, people have a right to agree to disagree, but then we must stop kidding ourselves about the systemic causes of how we got so royally screwed up in the first place.
When that happens, the common ground and civil discourse that Charlie Daniels says is missing will return.