By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
Last Monday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson decided to end Arkansas’ participation in the state’s current end-of-the-year Common Core PARCC exam, despite the fact that the State Board of Education had voted to do the opposite. It was only the fourth biggest story of the week.
That’s how much there was to talk about. The Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act, plus the Confederate flag issue, all were more newsworthy than Common Core, which usually gets people’s attention.
These issues run deep. For many Americans, gay marriage is either a fundamental human right, or it’s an attack on traditional marriage and a sin. Obamacare is an acceptable expansion of health insurance, or it’s a government takeover. Great-great-grandfather fought nobly for the South, or Great-great-grandfather was a slave.
There was an air of finality to last week’s developments. Gay marriage is now legal everywhere, and it’s also supported by a growing majority of Americans, particularly those under 30, so politicians calling for massive resistance won’t accomplish much if their goal is to make it illegal again. Obamacare is now firmly entrenched in the health care system, especially with this latest Supreme Court decision. To substantively change anything at the federal level, Republicans would have to win the White House, the House and a 60-vote majority in the Senate, an almost impossible task given the math in 2016. Then they would have to coalesce behind an alternative, which would be even harder. The Confederate flag has far fewer defenders than it did a couple of weeks ago. It’s been removed from Alabama’s Capitol, and even NASCAR’s chairman said he wants his sport “disassociated” from it.
But the arguments will continue, as they always do in a democracy. The debate over gay marriage now shifts to the extent that private individuals and businesses can be compelled by government force to accept it. Obamacare will be the focus of more litigation, and House Republicans will continue to stage votes to repeal it. Regardless of what happens to the Confederate symbol, far deeper substantive divisions will remain over race, justice, and the meaning of the past.
One of the things that’s most frustrating about American politics is that there are issues where we could agree, at least about the problem, if we gave it a shot. Most of us would say it’s wrong to keep adding to the national debt that we’re passing on to our kids, and because money doesn’t grow on trees, the government must over time collect as much money as it spends. We should agree that the country should maintain its highways, control its borders, and manage an orderly immigration system.
Unfortunately, we often can’t take meaningful action on these important areas where we could agree because the debate is so clouded by those important areas where we’ll never agree. Republicans and Democrats in Washington have become like a married couple that can’t stop fighting over the in-laws long enough to call 9-1-1 about their kitchen that’s on fire. Even a commonsense issue like the national debt, which must be addressed by a series of difficult but doable mathematical compromises, becomes enmeshed in the culture war. It’s hard to work with the other guy when you’ve told your supporters he’s a communist or a Nazi.
Increasingly, these United States are looking much more divided, much more tribal, and much more us versus them. Too many of our daily conversations, the media we consume, and our Facebook posts – my goodness, the Facebook posts – are marked by mocking, scornful attitudes towards entire groups of people, often based on beliefs.
And that’s a little scary. You can’t really believe in freedom unless you believe in freedom for those who are different than you, and that’s hard to do for someone you don’t respect. The next step after contempt is control, and control tends to spread like a virus that starts in one part of the body and then multiples until everything is infected.
We’re not all going to get along, but, like a lot of difficult marriages, we can meet in the middle as often as possible for the sake of our kids. No one ever said living in a free society would be easy, but Someone did once say, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” So peace be unto you, even when we don’t agree, and even when we can’t.