The Great Continental Divide

There is an old adage that if one wants to keep friends and family as such one steers clear from discussions of religion and politics. Old adages sometimes die extended but tenuous deaths as the years go by and what was true a generation ago can sometimes be as equally untrue in the next. Each passing generation holds core beliefs that are trodden upon by the next and while some truths are believed self-evident, some are apparently not so. There is a new civil war coming, folks and it's not so civil.

Take politics. What was once a gentleman's game has taken a hard hit by those would-be practitioners in the last century or so. Mudslinging has become the common de rigueur in the political arena. If one does not openly slam their opponent, they are often seen as weak and ineffectual or in some cases of such baseless attacks, lacking the appropriate patriotic backbone, or cajones if it's a man. Slander and scurrilous accusations are often taken as fact until otherwise proven innocent, so to speak.

Politicians have always been athletes of misinformed dialogue. After all, hyperbole is part of the selling of their particular brand of snake oil. Present-day politicians are, if nothing else, products of their carefully-constructed media savvy teams that run their campaigns with talking points and few facts and even less passion. Tweets, social media and spin doctors are the evolution of the time-honored Associated Press and Harris polls and the cigar-chomping backroom handlers of yesteryear. If one misspeaks, then one quickly apologizes and enters some sort of self-induced rehab. It is then spun as a self-help success story and all will hopefully be forgiven in the next electoral year.

Then take religion. What was once one's personal belief institution whose primary goal was personal redemption has now allied with politics as its latter-day salvation. Hardly a week goes by where one does not hear of how perdition awaits the voter if he does not vote this way or that on a particular issue. As hell bent as some politicians or pulpit pundits are, democracy just does not work in such ways. It is all smoke and mirrors, but no brimstone, folks.

To this mix we add the family members and friends. It is a curious time in which we exist. In our ideal world, we see ourselves as having evolved from our parent's and grandparent's generation as they had from theirs and this romantic mindset goes back and back through time immemorial. But are we that much different? The truth is; not really.

As much as we would like to think we're better off, more educated, more open to new ideas, less sacrificed to hatred, bigotry, religious intolerance and the like than our forbearers, it is the innate human condition to reject that which is different. It is through no fault of our own, no matter how much we try to change ourselves. This set of emotions may stretch all the way back to our primeval and yes, paranoid roots of building a stronger tribe and locking out intruders. Apparently, we have still not adapted to leaving our trees for our caves when it comes to accepting ourselves and those around us and in many respects, we have still to leave our own inner cave. This is true with politics and religion as well.

As spiritual beings and sometimes not-so-spiritual beings, personal faith and religion have always been open to interpretation. Personal faith is just that, personal. It need not be broadcast from one's own personal or political pulpit for everyone to hear and certainly not any sort of gain. Religion and its deeper meaning can always be a source of personal dialogue within oneself and one's Supreme Being of choice. God is not open to interpretation. When men begin to interpret God's viewpoint in and of the world and towards his fellow man, this is where we get it all wrong. This is how Crusades are started, genocides of indigenous people have been undertaken, how suicide bombers think, how planes get flown into buildings as missiles. This is how wars and personal agendas start. If you're not with us, you're against us. It's Us vs. Them.

Which brings me to the point of this article. In the definition from Webster's Dictionary, democracy is defined as "(noun); government by the people; especially: rule of the majority". In the Constitution our country is defined in the Preamble as "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (sic), promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." We are a union of citizens. Yet, we are at each other's throats.

Patriotism is often dusted off every four years for the photo-ready, sound-bite newsworthy Presidential campaigns or at the start of and at the 7th inning of every baseball game, America's other pastime. Must rancor and discord also go along with this electoral pastime? Why must divisiveness also be a part of the political process as sure as voting itself? Ideally, it would be like all commercials on tv should be: Tell me what you can do, how much is it going to cost me and where I can get it. That's all we need. End of story.

But much like our sports pastimes which have seen increased violence only if for the completely natural notion that someone in the baseball park or football stadium is cheering for the other team, it again turns into an Us vs. Them. Or perhaps a U.S. vs. them, for politics is also fast becoming a blood sport of its own.

Maybe not a blood sport in actions per se as it is so much in words. President Obama has been accused of being a socialist, a Communist (the latter and former not to be confused with the other), an illegal alien, a Muslim, a moderate to the Left, a moderate to the Right, a hawk, a dove, subservient to the banking industry and a myriad of other terms. His political adversary, Governor Romney was accused of being a prep school bully, not paying his taxes, a cutthroat who fires at will, a businessman who as a pioneer outsourcer has sent millions of dollars in American jobs overseas, a cunning investor who would put his money into offshore accounts and tax shelters such as in Switzerland and the Caymans rather than in American institutions.

Prep school thinking aside, it is an error to believe that we are part of some meritocracy in that the talented and intelligent rise to the top and move forward in life on the basis of their being gifted. If this were so, Congress would be a big room with many empty chairs. It takes money to be a politician, lots of it and in only a few cases did a Congressman ever let intelligence get in the way of a full day's work.

But politicians are now being backed by what are known as a Super PAC. Support your politician has taken on a whole new meaning of late. A "PAC" is actually an contraction for "political action committee", a harmless enough term suffice it to say, but one with a more harmful meaning if one looks into its deeper meaning.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled to lift the restrictions laid out by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 that sought to limit influence. This means that that there are no limits on contributions to any politician. Billionaires with hidden political agendas have crawled out of the woodwork to sponsor their candidate of choice and as a result, the old axiom, "The best politician money can buy" is more true than ever. Now not only are the politicians indebted to the voters but they are beholden to their wealthy benefactors, as well. Their puppet masters have now become policymakers when it comes to their political ward of the state, so to speak. One can only wonder: Do dreams of an unmentioned ambassadorship follow far behind?

Typically, the campaign has become a war of words and accusations and not a campaign of many solutions. Talks of birth certificates, tax records and the like have dominated campaign stop speeches with little to say of actual decisive measures. Photo opps make for a pretty picture but have little to say in the long run. Perhaps it is a sign of the times but frustration with both candidates runs high. Campaign ads are as negative and outrageous as ever.

This vitriolic discourse has trickled down, so to speak, to the average American. One cannot travel the highway, super-information or otherwise, without seeing a disparaging political sticker affixed to the back of someone's vehicle. Along those same highways are billboards and advertisements for and against this candidate or that, some evoking the Almighty. Politics, it seems, is becoming more and more invasive. As such it is in your face as never before and just as with radio and television before it, if it's on the internet, it must be true.

Emails go from email contact to email contact misquoting politicians so as to make them look bad or putting words in their mouths that they themselves never uttered. These are sent en masse to entire contact lists before being disavowed by fact checking sites such as Snopes, TruthorFiction or FactCheck.org that will set the record straight.

Facts are seldom bound by reality in Washington, nor are they bothered to be checked by politicians. In the Beltway political world, if something sounds good and is damning enough, there is no need to check the source. It has been humorously stated that facts should never get in the way of a good story and with a career politician this is doubly true. If it can give you a good bump in the polls, damn the consequences, until the press finds out, of course. Until that day, whatever is said on the political platform is fair game. Only in politics can fiction become fact. These facts are then repeated by the average voter who has no time in his or her daily life to become a political fact-checker and relies on the media. So, instead of open discussion, heated arguments commence with what are effectively, politically-formulated half lies and technical truths of the split hair club for men.

As a result, there are family members who are presently not speaking with each other, friends of many years who have taken offense by an old friend's party affiliation and will not go over such-and-such's house ever again. I am aware, although there are likely many more, of at least five cases that people I know who have been "un-friended" on Facebook as a result of their political beliefs, right or left. Divisiveness is the new all-inclusive. In the past few Presidential elections, party headquarters are vandalized throughout the country. There have been death threats to voters because of their political affiliations and there have been instances of voter's rights being tampered with and in some cases, their right to vote has been outright suppressed. Is this the democracy our forefathers envisioned when they wrote out our civil liberties?

Women have been made an easy target in an election that intends to marry politics and religion but never women's privileges. The basic right over who controls a woman's body is a secular matter, not a religious one. It has been the subject of a heated debate that should have no debate at all. Since when did Congress get into the obstetrics business? Aren't the parties famously about less governmental intrusion in our personal lives? If this is held true, then a woman is the only person who should have the say over what she can or cannot do with her body, not a group of old, doughy men on Capitol Hill. If the truth be told, these same righteous politicians people admire so have probably sent a mistress or two for an abortion during their tenure. So, suffice it to say, men should leave it to women make their own choices. Case closed.

Politics and religion are just two beliefs of man, replete with their hierarchies, rules and regulations as well as much too human mistakes. Add sex or a moral compass to the mix and it is a recipe for disaster. These three don't mix well and there are no easy answers as we've haven't yet discovered the way to More's Utopia. Politics, religion and sex are deeply interpersonal and private to our own central core of what is right and what is wrong and we cannot tell one another that they are inferior than us just because they don't subscribe to our personal beliefs. We need to work together to form a more perfect union as the architects of our country once conceived. We must subscribe to the idea that all men are created equal and that nobody has all of the answers. In the end, Americans need to become what are essentially creatures of a sort of political atheism. In this belief, no one is right and no one is wrong because there is no higher power, at least not where government is concerned. Looking at our politicians, we should know this by now.