Our Political Divide Is More The Result Of Differences In Personality Than Issues.

Political pundits have expended a lot of effort to try to understand our political divide. In particular, they want to understand what led so many people to vote for a man who outwardly defies their oft-stated values. Was it the browning of America? Was it the loss of manufacturing jobs? Was it the decline of rural, small-town America? Was it that Hillary Clinton seemed to be a flawed candidate? Was it a backlash to the Obama years?

All of those may have been factors. But I believe those explanations fall short. I believe there are emotional and psychological issues that have created the chasm between liberal and conservative Americans fed by the fragmentation of media. Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, conservative propagandists have been able to feed their audiences a steady stream of outrage and lies. So, too, have websites and social media. Many Americans now expose themselves only to “news” stories that fit their preconceived ideas. And the once unifying presence of evidence-based network news is now dismissed by a large percentage of conservatives as “fake” news. This new media reality has tapped into the long-seething anger and fear of conservative Americans who feel they are ignored and left behind by Washington and the so-called intellectual elites.

As an accomplished con-man, Trump recognized the vulnerability of these conservatives and, with the help of Russian interference, he was able to manufacture and exaggerate their outrage. It was his ability to manipulate them that ultimately led him to the White House.

Let me be clear, I don’t believe that today’s conservatives are bad people. But, for the most part, they lack a curiosity for the unfamiliar. They lack compassion and empathy for people unlike themselves. They are fearful of change, even if that change promises to make things better. They see compromise as a weakness. And they have far too much regard for authority, especially when it is accompanied by the American flag and the Bible. It is because of these characteristics that they are especially vulnerable to being manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and pastors. To fully understand what I mean, let’s examine those characteristics one at a time.

CURIOSITY – Studies have shown that fewer conservatives have passports than liberals. They are less likely to travel outside of our country and, when they do, they tend to travel to countries where they don’t have to try to understand another language or another culture. This lack of curiosity has also led to their growing contempt for science – a discipline that is based on curiosity.

COMPASSION – Liberals are quick to support charitable causes to aid the impoverished, to preserve the environment, and to support human rights. But studies show that conservatives contribute even more money to charity. However, most of that money is donated to churches. Further, their compassion is too often limited to those they know or those who are like them. Want an example? Conservatives, especially evangelicals, are horrified when a white, evangelical pastor is imprisoned in Turkey for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. But they are unmoved by the plight of brown Christians fleeing violence in Central America and Syria. And they seem perfectly okay with brown refugee children being ripped away from their parents and held in cages along our southern border.

CHANGE – For the most part, liberals see change as good if it promises improvement – improvement in the quality of life; improvement in the lives of others; improvement of the environment. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to embrace change only if it directly helps them (America First). Otherwise, they seem bound by the rules of what once was (Make America Great Again). They would rather deny freedoms to thousands in the LGBTQ community rather than accept them as they are. They refuse to accept people of another color or another religion unless they personally know them. And they refuse to risk changing our economy to address climate change, even when it has been proven that it would improve our environment and the economy at the same time.

COMPROMISE – Many conservatives see the world in stark contrasts of black and white. Of winners and losers. Having embraced the sports axiom that a runner-up is the first loser, they have even learned to despise average. To the people who support Trump, negotiations are a zero sum game. There is no such thing as a win-win solution. There is no place for political compromise or moderation. It is that philosophy that led to Mitch McConnell’s decision to block nearly every one of President Obama’s initiatives and appointments regardless of its merits. It is what caused them to rail against the Affordable Care Act, a Republican idea. It is what caused them to block the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, a man who was selected precisely for his moderate views. It is that attitude, and that attitude alone, that led to today’s hyperbolic political partisanship despite conservative claims that both parties are equally at fault.

AUTHORITY – Liberals often pride themselves on questioning authority and showing a healthy skepticism of those in power. On the other hand, conservatives, especially those who have embraced Trump, display a blind, unquestioning loyalty to their leaders. Moreover, like their leaders, they will never admit to a mistake. In the minds of conservatives, people like Trump and Charles Koch are winners to be admired and emulated despite their ethical and moral failures. To today’s religious conservatives, such “winners” didn’t inherit their wealth from their fathers or steal it through bullying and accounting tricks. They actually believe that those “winners” were chosen by God.

So, my liberal friends, I submit to you that it will do you no good to reason with today’s conservatives. They may hear you, but they will not listen. They will not change. They will not compromise. But they will undoubtedly expect you to do what they won’t.

The Great American Con.

The news media – the ones Trump so viciously attacks – continue to treat his administration as any other. They devote hours of airtime and barrels of printer’s ink in an attempt to decipher the actions of the Trump administration. But the sad truth is that Trump is not a typical president. He gained the office with the help of Russia and Vladimir Putin while failing to garner a majority of the popular vote. And, since taking office, his actions have defied presidential norms.

What the media fail to recognize or acknowledge is that Trump is nothing more than a con man. A man who, as defined by the dictionary, “Cheats or tricks someone by gaining their trust and persuading them to believe something that is not true.”

The definition fits Trump to a T.

And like any con man, he has chosen his marks. Those consist of evangelical “Christians” who are willing to overlook his many moral and ethical shortcomings as long as he opposes abortion and continues to make judicial appointments who are willing to take away a woman’s right to control her own body.

His other marks consist of angry, disillusioned white people who oppose immigration and who hope the image of financial success portrayed by Trump’s many properties will somehow rub off on them. In addition, he has pandered to a collection of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other deplorables who have been attracted to Trump by his verbal attacks on immigrants and refugees from Mexico, Central America and what Trump describes as “shithole” countries.

And, like any con man, having selected his marks, Trump has bombarded them with promises to return the US to the days when whites were the clear majority, when most immigrants came from Europe, when white male industrialists were in firm control, when businesses could extract natural resources and pollute with impunity, and when you didn’t have to worry about being impolite. Indeed, those promises are all summed up by his slogan “Make America Great Again.”

When he fails to deliver on his promises or when one of his scams is exposed, he either assigns blame to others (usually President Obama, Hillary Clinton or other Democrats) or merely claims success while burying his failures in an avalanche of lies.

Then, with everyone focused on reports of his scandalous behavior or the corruption of his appointees, he claims the prize he is really after: Money. He retreats almost weekly to his own resorts forcing taxpayers to pay for the accommodations of his security detail and those of other government officials. He asks his personal attorney to sell government access to corporations and foreign interests. He asks his cabinet to overturn regulations for the benefit of his own company and those of his friends. He leverages his position and those of his children to pave the way for trademarks, licenses and developments in other countries. And he continues to build his brand for the future.

It’s all a complex game of three card Monte run by a man with all of the sophistication and class of a carnival barker. And it’s long past time for the mainstream media to expose that man for what he really is before he costs us something far more valuable than money: Our democracy.

Beyond Tribalism.

Today, most Americans are members of a political tribe – Trump’s tribe, the Republican tribe, the Conservative tribe, the Libertarian tribe, the Democratic tribe, the Liberal tribe, the Evangelical tribe. But no matter which of the labels we prefer, we should find many issues upon which we can all agree.

On the most important issues, we should all be members of the same tribe – the American tribe.

So, for the time being, let’s set aside the questions of possible conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and whatever Hillary Clinton was accused of doing or not doing. We should all be concerned that all of our intelligence-gathering agencies agree that Russia – one of our greatest rivals – interfered with our elections. If we, as Americans, are to have confidence in our elected leaders, we need to know that they were fairly elected.

In addition, there should be plenty of other areas of agreement among ordinary Americans. For example, we should all be worried that many of our longest-standing institutions – the press, FBI, CIA, justice system, educational system, science, even the truth – are under attack. Moreover, it should be abundantly clear that there is also an all-out attack on America’s working class.

Ideology aside, we should all be horrified that corporations and the very rich received 83 percent of the benefits from the most recent tax cuts – cuts resulting in deficits that will add multiple trillions to our national debt. We should all be concerned that the president ignores the Constitution’s emoluments clause by spending nearly every weekend at one of his resorts in order to charge taxpayers millions for the rooms needed for Secret Service, as well as government and foreign officials.

We should all be outraged over reports that the president’s longtime lawyer – his “fixer” – paid hundreds of thousands to buy the silence of women with whom he had affairs. And we should be even more troubled by reports that the same “fixer” was apparently selling access to the White House and accepting millions from a Russian oligarch.

We should be skeptical of Betsy Devos’s push to privatize education, thereby taking money away from public schools in order to finance parochial and private schools for the well-heeled. We should recoil at the dozens of reports detailing Scott Pruitt’s corruption and his rollback of environmental protections, thereby threatening clean air and water.

We should be angered by Steven Mnuchin’s use of government planes for his honeymoon and other private trips. We should be equally alarmed at Ryan Zinke’s taxpayer-funded vacations, his unjustified cuts to national monuments and his sweetheart deals for campaign donors who have placed bids for drilling rights on public lands. We should be universally sickened by Ben Carson’s plan to triple the cost of rent for poor Americans (many of them seniors) who live in public housing while others in government scheme to cut funding for food assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP and Social Security.

It cannot be stated often enough or strongly enough: This is not normal!