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Debate versus Division - The Polarization of America

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Since arriving from England in 1998,I have played golf every week with a roster of about 12 guys, here in Minneapolis. Almost to a man, they happen to be hard-right Christian conservatives who support Bushco unquestioningly, call the Iraq War "a just and noble cause ", think Saddam Hussein perpetrated 9/11 and tell me the likes of Jimmy Carter, Helen Thomas and Garrison Keillor are traitors and should be deported or hung.

They are also good honorable family men and friends of mine.

One of the trends that has most disturbed me, observing over the last 8 years, is the gradual demise and now the almost total lack of political dialogue in this country.

I am not talking about the media. Corporations control the mainstream, and honest debate and reporting of the facts and the truth has been marginalized. Even PBS has become a disappointment.
But it is what it is. And it will inevitably change.

What I am talking about is simply conversations on a golf course. Grassroots debate, if you will pardon the pun the basic exchange of information and ideas that keeps a free democracy healthy from the ground up.

I remember many lively fairway debates, and many sharp witty follow-up exchanges the following week on the group email. Jokes. Insults. Weblinks and amusing pictures.
Sarcasm, irony, truths and half-truths, red herrings and deliberate lies, back-and-forth, give-and-take, points conceded and points stuck to, argued confidently or spuriously clung to.

And next Saturday morning we would all be smiling and shaking hands once again on the 1st tee.

Early this year I sent my final "debate " email to the group. It was titled "no more politics ". And I have stuck to my promise.
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Why? Am I a coward? Do I not have the courage of my convictions? Am I afraid?

No. It was because debate had ceased. I remember the exact day. I had sent a picture of Bush holding hands with the Crown Prince and pointed out that the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian, the Wahabbis finance a great deal of world terrorism, Osama is Saudi Arabian, that the country is a dictatorship and treat women inhumanely. And that Saddam and Al Qaeda were sworn enemies. Simple facts.

The stream of vitriol I received was shocking. Caps. Colors. Limey Go Home! Hypocrite! America-Hater!

So I had a choice. Keep banging my head on a brick wall, or shut up and keep my friends.

It was never like this before. How did it happen?
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Is America now so polarized that reasoned debate is obsolete? Have facts and nuance and shades of opinion become irrelevant, buried in the putrid mountain of right-wing soundbites and blatant lies pounded at us repeatedly until we acquiesce, aching head in our hands or in blind acceptance of every word, every half-truth, every spin?

I remember the Bush-Gore debates. I remember Bush with his earpiece, blinking in the headlights, repeating Rovian soundbites, while Gore reasoned, strung logical thoughts together, tried to debate. And I remember the opinion poll afterwards. Majority for Bush, because Gore "came across as arrogant " and Bush "a man of the people ". I knew then we were in big trouble. It had worked. And boy have they taken it to the limit.

This is becoming a polarized and divisive nation. A nation of Us vs Them. Of Rich vs Poor. "Immigrants " vs "The People ". Christians vs Liberals. False premises all.
A nation of You 're With Us Or You 're Against Us, of investigative journalists and Democratic dissenters tagged as traitors, of unquestioning faith in the right and might of Bombs Bursting In Air and The Rocket 's Red Glare.
Of Christianity vs Islam. Of "Bring 'Em On ". Of permanent war and fear.

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Mark Lloyd is a working stiff in Minneapolis. He grew up in Yorkshire, England during the socialist 70's and Thatcher & Reagan's 80's and disliked both mobs. His fierce interest in politics, history and The Truth combined with the appalling start to (more...)
 

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