I want to thank Fareed Zakaria. His Washington Post opinion essay and his June 18, 2017 CNN GPS classroom were enlightened statements providing background to address our country’s major contemporary challenge. He analyzed how focusing on identity leads us to a divided people.
This challenge is what divides us as a people. We are divided maybe more than any time since Reconstruction. We hear from some (stereotyped as urban Democrats) about other Americans. The “others” are deplorable, racist, slothful, uneducated bigots working in justifiably dying businesses like coal mining. These “others” are obsessed with cruel and often self-serving markets.
Contemporaneously others (stereotyped as rural Republicans) call out “salon-dwellers”. They are seen as soft, out-of-contact, coddled, snowflakes unknowing about basic survival skills in the real world which is often unfriendly, unremunerated, and sometimes violent. These solon-dwellers are one-trick-ponies – arguing always for more government.
Identity More than Economics
His Washington Post article emphasized that today so many of the issues we confront are more about identity than economics. Economics historically has created emotional divisions but these fissures can be welded back together because there is a middle-ground for resolution. Identities on the other hand are very personal. It is more difficult to resolve because there is no in between only those like us and those who aren’t. Every issue is an island with treacherous waters between.
The GPS Panel Discussion
On the Sunday GPS show, Dr. Zakaria’s panel represented a variety of expertise and opinion.
They included Ed Luce with the Financial Times and author of The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Jill Abramson, formerly the Executive Editor of the New York Times was on the panel as was David Blanenhorn, representing the “Better Angels”. This organization is involved with Post 2016 election reconciliation, and Padraig O’Malley who participated in the Northern Ireland peace process and worked in South Africa for truth and reconciliation.
The first 6 minutes and 35 seconds of the Youtube discussion in the link provided is edifying about this subject and provides a summary of a problem-solving perspectives.
Though there was some reference to how President Trump is polarizing the American policy process, the discussion steered away from blaming one group more than another.
(Though Republicans took it in the chin for a while until the classroom rules changed discouraging the blame game).
Key concepts are breaking people down to a person’s humanity and the “ism” and focusing on the human being. There is little ability to bridge an identity “ism”, A major problem now is that are several public squares and different folks assemble in each, never testing their humanity and ideas with others. In times past there was more of a single public square. The panel discussed facts and how there is now several set of facts. Jill Abramson was focused on the discovery of objective truths by the professional media and their role in achieving consensus and defining direction.
Lessons from Dr. Zakaria’s Panel
The lessons from the discussion were edifying, but not defining. As Dr. Zakaria alluded, they were a beginning. The whole matter of truth was not resolved. My impression is that the environment you live and your perspective on a subject has a lot to do with defining truth. We are compelled to see the world through our personal paradigms, and we cannot have any chance building bridges until we appreciate the needs and humanity of others.
Unfortunately, this exercise may be pre-conceived by many as a soft, hand holding, kumbaya effort which would be for some a disincentive to participate in it. A default counter-measure of this era may be to enlist a “power player” such as Donald Trump staring in government as “Paladin -Have Gun Will Travel”.
The objective then is not to enlist polarizing, win-lose power players but instead to overcome the disincentives and to launch real dialogue and discovery. To do this we will have to move away from identity justifications towards more practical safety and economic criteria.
We will have to rely upon listening to understand and most importantly a respect for other humans and groups in terms of their perspectives. The practice now is to settle matters by defeating others and diminishing their needs to irrelevance.
A final observation is that we need to develop incentives to coalesce as a people.
There is both power and brutality in a wedge, pushing people apart. We need to think about incentives and institutions to coalesce and coagulate. Regarding these incentives the “deplorable” and “snowflake” likely are on entirely different islands.
The Baseball Practice Shooting As A Case Study
Dr. Zakaria’s presentations offer a fresh perspective about the reaction to the recent baseball practice shooting. A solitary gunman allegedly attempted to assassinate a group of Federal Republican legislators, lobbyists, and staff practicing for a charitable baseball game with the Democrats.
Reviewing liberal cultural responses to the assassination attempt, the tenor differs, but some demonstrate a general lack of empathy to understanding the perspective of the Republican legislators who were shot and specially to hearing-out the Republican perspective about the efficacy of having firearms available to defend themselves in the initial minutes of an armed attack.
From The View
The View on ABC News discussed a basic division in America after the shooting. One commentator was worried that armed self-defense may interfere with police work once they arrive at the scene of a deadly force attack.
Another participant in the discussion said she lives in a state with strict gun laws and she would not use public transportation in open-carry states because those carrying firearms may harm her. A third panel members indicated she came from a state with open gun laws and she was not worried at all about “law-abiding” citizens with guns.
A fourth participant in the discussion cited Japan as a safe culture and asked why we don’t emulate them. They talked about parsing the Second Amendment a bit, but the video cut for the sponsor message and did not return to a review of the Second Amendment and militias.
The discussion demonstrated the variation of opinion on the subject, little common ground, and a paucity of heart-felt dialogue. Everyone appeared “armed” with their talking points and little else. Except for this, I didn’t learn anything from the exchange.
Rural-Urban Divide and Guns
Since the time of Aristotle we have been taught the key to successful policy is finding a balance. Quantitative economic issues can be successfully compromised by dividing a difference. With identity issues, such as guns in America it is not so simple.
For many, moving past guns is a non-paranoid step towards civilization and community. For others, in different settings and cultures, a gun provides a sense of safety and protection – essentially reference to American “self-reliance” and the desire to protect family and self.
It is often said this breaks down to the rural-urban-divide. The data in this regard is interesting. According to the Census, about 72% of the population now live in urban settings, while only 15% are “rural”. The ways of categorizing do not necessarily represent urban and rural views though, but rather the accumulation of population within Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas which is pretty much two-dimensional statistical analysis.
While urbanization has increased, for some time, over the past couple of decade views regarding guns have also changed. According the Pew Research Center, in August of 2000, 67% supported more “gun control” while 29% were supportive of “gun rights”. The most recent chart from the Center, specifies that has changed to 52% supporting “gun rights” in August 2016 while support for “gun control” has declined to 46%.
The Three Paths of Firearms Policy
From urbanization trends we deduce if the right to bear arms depended on rural populations this American right would have gone the way of the do-do bird. From polling information, we see that at this point the Second Amendment right has broad support.
This polling result leads us to the question of how to address firearms. I think there are essentially three ways to address firearm policy:
• One is the typical “gun rights” approach which is to remove legislation to gun use and ownership and let the market decide;
• Another is the “gun control” approach which is to enact laws restricting who who may purchase and own a gun. Cumulative policy action may greatly limit the opportunity to use firearms for self-defense. Anyone bucking the regulation would be subject to criminal penalty, sort of like the War on Drugs or Prohibition;
• The third way is primarily educational, focusing on developing safety protocols for the use of guns that is not driven by extensive regulations limiting who and where but instead on education in gun use and safety.
With this federal, state, and local governments have a key role, and sheriff departments throughout the United States would take up the role of providing and supervising gun safety and use training. This would essentially return to a local militia-like organization to support firearms training for personal and family protection taking us back to the language of the Second Amendment.
Achieving Social Justice in Salon
The View demonstrated a range of talking points about guns. Another perspective is the center-left media. Amanda Marcotte writing in Salon, displays in my reading incredulity towards those who may choose to use firearms for self-protection.
Ms. Marcotte interestingly was born in Southern Texas and grew up in the small, rural community of Alpine. Her narrative is about how guns are opportunistically marketed to offset the self-perceived, purchaser peccadillos.
Ms. Marcotte concludes the support many Republican Congress-members have expressed for armed self-defense after the Baseball Practice Shooting is derived from bad motives. In her words, “Fears of emasculation, racist anxieties about crime, power fantasies about silencing dissent through threats of violence, and a widespread loathing for liberals and their insistence on rational evidence — all these things sell guns.”
I did not find analysis in this Salon article offered any bridge to the differences between liberal and conservative law makers. Her comments were about imputed rational evidence for the Democrats and irrational fear by the Republicans. This comparison does not offer much hope, and the only conclusion presumably may be a desire to defeat the Republicans in moral combat.
The Federalist Expresses Outrage Buttons
Conservative commentators have also addressed the differences. The article in the The Federalist was introduced as “A shooter targeted Republican lawmakers playing baseball on Wednesday, and several progressive media personalities declared the Republicans deserved it.”
The article was obviously written to demonstrate how unsympathetic some elite Democratic commentators are to the attacked Republicans as individuals. I guess this emphasizes a lack of decency by the other side. The article focuses on tweets which at least one instance characterized Congressman Scalise as a “racist lawmaker”.
The Federalist article does not help the dialogue advance to a constructive conclusion. It only documents unreasonable statements by some Democratic commentators. The article would have been helpful if it had defined a beneficial path to some common ground rather than symbolically pouring gasoline on the fire presumably trying to feature evil qualities of some Democratic commentators.
Bridges Empower Our Efforts Forward
Thank you again Dr Zakaria for your comments and efforts. My suggestion for future shows is to include a modern Eric Hoffer or even Alexis de Tocqueville, who have visceral understandings of the articulate-mass who do not have the elite credentials to serve on cable news panels. You might also consider a “Rough Rider” review.
The “Rough Rider” Review
Though Dr. Zakaria’s panel may have emphasized group dynamics and human relations, we may also review our institutions and how they shape our culture. Do they integrate us as a people, or are we increasingly separate and maybe equal? A “Rough Rider” review is a consideration of an atypical activity which created an early option that could develop opportunistically into a strategic institutional element.
Theodore Roosevelt who is often criticized as politically-incorrect or worse, was offered the opportunity to form a voluntary cavalry unit at the beginning of the Spanish American War.
As he recounts in his 1899 book The Rough Riders, he formed the regiment including many members as varied as college men from Harvard, Yale, Princeton; From clubs like the Somerset of Boston and Knickerbocker of New York, policeman and other lawmen such as Bucky O’Neill; Men from the Four Territories who drew their livelihood as cowboys, hunters, and mining prospectors and Native Americans including representatives of the Cherokees, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Pawnee tribes.
To enhance the diversity of his effort, the 1st Volunteer Cavalry was an amalgamation including Hispanic Americans such as Captain Maximiliano Luna and George Armijo.
When it went into combat it was one regiment in the 2nd Brigade, the other units being the Tenth U.S. Cavalry, a unit of African-American troopers in a segregated military and the First U.S. Cavalry, a white unit in the same segregated service. On the American side, Kettle Hill was inclusive on the battle field for it had the range of white society, plus Native Americans, Hispanic Americans and African-American soldiers all fighting and dying for their country in pursuit of nationalistic objectives.
The Seeds of Beneficial Policy Found in Unlikely History
The seeds of a cohesive mid-20th Century America and the Civil Rights movement beginning in the late 1940s during the Truman Administration were anticipated by the inclusiveness of a campaign 50 years before. Jim Crow was the scourge of the five succeeding decades growing from the seeds of a failed Reconstruction, but nascent institutional constructs many years earlier provided the faint glimmer of an opportunistic option for advancement in succeeding decades. This option was empowered by the necessity of the World War II draft for national preservation which also was a strain from Theodore Roosevelt’s world view.
History is then opportunistic based on options introduced in earlier times, but if we are to advance our common American purpose we must design our institutions and they must consider elements that bring us together. The draft did this during World War II, and we need to think about compelling institutions that may accomplish this in our time.
In this way, resilient actions affirmed durable truths though time may intervene.