The Great American Divide, Pt. 2: The Current Situation
In continuing our series on the Great American Divide, Republicans and Democrats in Washington have pushed themselves away from the political center. But does that mean that the extremists in each party are controlling the debate? Bill Priestley reports on how serious this separation has become.
This is the second step of a four part series to help understand the Great American Divide. You can view the first part here.
When asked about the current state of affairs in American politics most of our participants agreed on this point as to when we should start working on the political divide.
Former Mayor of Chattanooga, Ron Littlefield says, “You need to deal with it right up front and right now.”
Marsha Yessick, the Chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, believes, “The country is in trouble because of this divide.”
“I would say you know if ever there were a moment where Americans need to at least be tolerant of each other and ideally love on each other regardless of political differences, to move the world into a better tomorrow, that would be now,” says former Congressional Candidate Weston Wamp.
However the reasons suggested for working on it now showed some diversity.
Lee University Professor of Psychology Dr. Robert Fisher says, “If your political leanings kind of based on your sense of morality, if they have ideas different than yours, then it does almost strike you as immoral and the problem is we’re not making any effort to see what we can learn from the other perspective.”
Ron Littlefield adds that, “In the course of this battle that’s going to happen, we need to have a conversation about how do we bring all this under control a little better than it is.”
Others argued that what people see is a divide might not always be so.
Tennessee State Senator Todd Gardenhire says, “The problem is not Democrat Republican as such in the in the truest sense. It it’s mainly each of us within our own parties have the different philosophical pieces of a coalition.”
Jim Hall, former Chairman of National Transportation Safety Board, added the ultimate warning given for the gridlock in Washington. “We can quickly, you know populations have done it before. People have done it before. You can literally commit governmental suicide.”
Given that the two sides have been pushed away from each other. How much have extremists, those at the far right and the far left, influenced the nation’s politics? This has played out more recently at the state house with a bill supported by State Senator Todd Gardenhire.
“The last five or six years I’ve been promoting a bill to help give children of undocumented parents, whether they’re undocumented or whether they’re a U.S. citizen, ability to go to college and to pay in-state tuition like everybody else. To get these kids educated. Because it touches the issue of immigration, nothing gets done and a huge divide even up here in Nashville over that one issue there should be a no-brainer.”
Former State Representative, JoAnne Favors has seen similar things happen to issues that in her opinion have been vaulted to the front of the line when they really aren’t that important.
“You know women have always had abortions and they always will. We’ve made that a major political issue and it’s more people needing pension benefits than it is people having abortions.”
Dr. Michele Deardorff, Political Science Professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, says that extremists aren’t controlling the debate but they are framing it.
“If you frame the abortion as the question, is abortion right or wrong, yeah there’s no compromise. If you frame it as how do we make abortions occur as infrequently as possible and you just frame it differently, so then the question is what kinds of policies could we agree on, that would make abortions unnecessary under most circumstances.”
It’s also easy to see extremists advocating for the destruction of the opposing political party.
Jim Hall says, “If either side knew that the other party would disappear, there’d be panic.”
“If you read and follow what you see a media nowadays, you would take a lot of people think that way. Well let’s just wipe away that other side and then we can control things. You don’t want that to happen,” adds Ron Littlefield.
But that doesn’t mean that extremists should be ignored completely.
Dr. Michele Deardorff, “I think you want those voices because sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes in compromises, we are violating values that we hold and people on the extremes can remind us of it.”