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The numbers of polarization

June 12, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
Regular visitors to this spot know there’s a certain disdain I have for those out at the poles of everything. And, I regularly express the notion that there’s not enough of us left in the middle who see points on either side that can be used to make everything just a little better.

Turns out I’m not wrong in expressing the fear that we’re very far down the path of polarization, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

The good pollsters have determined that we are indeed more polarized than at any point in the past 20 years. (Sometimes, I wonder if there had been pollsters in the 1850s if they’d have found similar numbers before the Civil War. Hope that’s wrong on my part.)

I have long decried the advancement of ideologies over actual ideas, of “-isms” over people, and I’m not wrong in feeling that ideologues rule the day.

Pew terms part of what it sees as “ideological silos,” and they’re on the left and the right of the political center. People in the silos associate mainly with others who share their political views.

The divide carries on into where people choose to live, the kinds of people that people choose to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families, according to the Pew analysis of its data.

Ahhh. As I’m fond of pointing out, “All in the Family” is alive and well and unfortunately it’s no longer a satire on our TV screens but a divided reality. Everybody’s either a Meathead or an Archie but there are few Ediths in between. Is it any wonder people automatically label things such as automobiles as “liberal” or “conservative”? We want it all our way and nothing else will do. The numbers bear it out.

Where the lines used to blur at the center, where median Republicans and median Democrats played together, the numbers on the Pew graphs have shifted outward. The number of Americans who express consistently liberal or consistently conservative opinions has doubled in 20 years from 10 to 21 percent. the ideological overlap of the parties, the researchers say, has eroded to where today 92 percent of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat and 94 percent of the Democrats are to the left of the median Republican. That’s resounding majorities away from the center.

Yet, we lament as a nation that nothing ever changes, that we keep sending new folks to Washington and less happens than ever before.

That’s because it takes a compromise. The F-150 pickup and the Chevy Volt hybrid both hit the same pothole, but the folks in Washington who represent in my mind what this goofy society has decided are the polar political opposites on wheels cannot come to terms on how to come up with a lasting system to pay to repair the pothole and repave the interstate. It really is my way or the highway to most people now.

And to me, that’s not just sad, it’s frightening.

Because sooner or later, the folks in the silos might just want to fire on one another.

It took men like Reagan and Gorbachev to end the pointing of the real missiles in the real silos at one another’s nations.

Where are such men internally now?

Or are we somehow repeating the unresearched data of the late 1850s?


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