Monday, June 27, 2011

Divisions too Deep

This morning I was watching the various cable news and business networks, as is my routine, and paused on a discussion of religious beliefs and politicians. The discussion on MSNBC reflected a national division in perceptions, one that causes people to drift further and further apart. The hosts and guests agreed that in the Northeast talk of faith would doom a Republican political campaign, but not necessarily a Democrat's campaign.

This double standard is often evident in campaign years. Democrats rush to speak in African-American churches and to obtain the endorsements of various black Christian ministers. That's okay. But a Republican speaking to a church? Mentioning faith? That plays into the stereotype of Republican voters as ignorant religious zealots from Flyover Country and the Deep South.

I was raised in a West Coast state and now work in an East Coast state. I'm an educated, agnostic, centrist. But am I constantly amazed by the complete and total disregard my colleagues demonstrate when discussing their fellow Americans. The condescension is bad enough, but it comes with loathing and even hatred for Americans with different perspectives.

I'm not religious, but it bothers me a great deal that these media double standards drive public debates. Picking and choosing when and were to be a "person of faith" to appeal to specific voters only reinforces divisions we don't need as a nation.

There's also a clear misunderstanding of different religious beliefs and traditions. Mocking a politician who states that he or she prays on important matters doesn't strike me as "liberal" or "tolerant." I happen to sit and quietly reflect on major issues in my life. What if I told a reporter I meditated when making big decisions? Would I be mocked? Probably not. It's okay to be immersed in thought — as long as you don't call that process prayer.

I'm not a Republican, and certainly not a religious conservative, but it is easy to see how the rhetoric used against a vast swath of Americans and their values leads them to be defensive. A colleague bragged about touring various nations I consider backwards and intolerant, especially towards gays and women, right after she insulted Christians from Iowa. The hypocrisy of celebrating one region while condemning Americans escaped this colleague. She won't even read alternative viewpoints in this country, but was on a quest to understand the "brave and noble peoples fighting colonialism." One of the nations she visited has the death penalty for homosexuality. But she really hates her fellow Americans.

Only three days earlier, a New York Times columnist managed to insult Middle America while appearing on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. David Carr said: "If it's Kansas, Missouri, no big deal. You know, that's the dance of the low-sloping foreheads. The middle places, right? [pause] Did I just say that aloud?"

I'm sorry, but if I hailed from Kansas or Missouri, I'd be really sick and tired of the Northeast elites mocking me as uninformed, simple-minded, backwards, and a manipulated tool of the GOP. The assumptions about Middle America are themselves uninformed and simple-minded.

The media are dominated by educated liberals residing in a handful of cities. They believe cities are cultured, rural towns are quaint. A college education is a sign of intellect, while manual labor is a sign of ignorance. Secularism is advanced, religion is outmoded. Of course, these elite city-dwelling liberals are really concerned about the working class in Middle America, but those morons in Kansas and Missouri can't seem to figure out what's best for themselves.

I'm not convinced we can have meaningful policy debates as long as Americans feel hatred and disdain for each other.

Yes, there are bigots, sexists, and homophobes and we should challenge their beliefs. But to assume the worst of vast swaths of this nation is absurd. I've visited numerous states and most Americans are hardworking, well-meaning people simply trying to provide the best they can for themselves and their families.

I believe the New York Times and the major news networks need to open large offices in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, and other central states. Don't just spend a week or two covering a flood or drought in these states, either. I want these elite snobs, who are as guilty of bigotry as they claim Middle America is, to spend two or three years living and working in small-town America. That might, maybe, open some eyes to what the view from the Middle is.

Or the elites would simply find evidence to feel even more superior. Maybe we can't solve our problems as a nation.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent. I posted this on my FB and I NEVER post things about politics, other than the scandal in my home state.

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  2. I can attest to Chris's FB post -- I followed it over here. I, too, live in a "fly-over" state, but it's big enough to garner attention because of the number of electoral votes. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

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