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Bob Franken: The ties that unbind

Posted: June 24, 2014 - 4:38pm

That recent Pew Research Center poll is pretty jarring. We are so politically polarized in this country that nearly one in three “consistently conservative” Americans would be upset if one of his or her children wed a Democrat. For the “consistently liberal” respondents, it was nearly one in four for the opposite wedding.

Imagine the new remake of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” How many would be protesting they weren’t really closed-minded, saying, “Some of my best friends are (right wingers/left wingers), but would you want your daughter to marry one?”

And here’s a tough question for those on the right: Would you be against your kid tying the knot with a Democrat more than if he or she married a Republican of the same sex?

Pew documents that large segments of our population have become so rigid in their beliefs that they prefer being exclusively with their own ideological kind.

By the way, 49 percent of all Americans say they’d be distressed if the new in-law was an atheist. Maybe that’s because a church ceremony probably would be out of the question.

Sadly, the idea that we’re all in this together is dissolving. Usually, we’re not; the very political process that’s supposed to bind us together is driving us apart. We’ve drifted from the “one nation, indivisible” promise to a country that is very divided. Our flag is one of the few places where red and blue get together.

There seems to be little common purpose. Partisan disputes defy resolution. If anyone dares to flirt with compromise, he is treated within his camp, on both the right and left sides of the barrier, as if he has committed a crime against nature and is literally shunned, tossed out of the community. It’s a ritual we call the primary.

Who benefits from this? Certainly those who get rich and stay rich by gaming the system do. If the bulk of us spend our time refusing to even deal with each other, then nothing can get done, obvious inequities and abuses are unchallenged, and those who benefit continue to while everyone else gets hosed. It’s classic “divide and conquer,” and it explains why certain mega-wealthy individuals, like the infamous Koch brothers, spray a little of their wealth on efforts to exploit ignorance, inflame cultural passions, inhibit reform and make sure that, as a result, nothing stands between them and their greed.

A result is an erosion of trust in all our institutions. On both sides of our divide there is a corrosive belief that the U.S. is on a downward slide. The latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows 54 percent questioning President Barack Obama’s very leadership ability. Perhaps he can take solace in the fact that Gallup shows that only 46 percent have confidence in the Supreme Court. As usual, approval of Congress is infinitesimal, usually around 10 percent. There’s not much to pull us together.

Those of us in media certainly aren’t helping. Far too many have abandoned the tradition of nonalignment and staked our professional fortunes to one side or the other.

The result is that most Americans get a slanted view of any issue, as they gravitate to the reporters and commentators who reinforce their predispositions. Management has decided that this approach is the new way to attract viewers. Maybe the new Gallup poll will be food for thought. It shows confidence in media also in the toilet, with TV news swirling around a new low of 14 percent.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a land bound by common principles, where we would argue issues with respect, but debate has been replaced by baiting, and no one listens to anything but his or her own voice. Sadly, the name of our country is becoming obsolete. More and more we are no longer the United States.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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