For those who like to consider themselves political moderates, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center produced some disquieting results. By 49 to 42 percent, Americans favor “political leaders who stick to their positions without compromising” over those “who make compromises with people they disagree with.”
When broken down by political affiliation, independents were surprisingly the most rigid in favoring the anti-compromise attitude, 53 to 40 percent.
Now certainly surveys are fleeting and fickle glimpses, subject to the skewed lenses of the statements and questions put to respondents. And in a time of great economic pain and uncertainty, with the bad mood of the electorate exploited by so many panderers of polarization, they can be even less reliable indicators of what people really want from their elected leaders.
Still, as a self-professed left-of-center moderate and one who takes pride in deliberate and thoughtful governance, seeking whenever possible common ground among competing interests, it is dismaying and sometimes a little scary to poke my head above the mostly calm sea of our county’s issues to behold the whirlpooling factions of furious discord.
It seems that regardless of whichever cable TV news or AM talk radio station you tune into, the programming can be remarkably similar. Suspicion is shaped into conspiracy, half-truths and distortions are amplified by emotionally charged bombast and unhistorical citations and confusing platitudes are committed into jingoistic sloganeering, or worse, crude chauvinism toward people with different backgrounds and beliefs.
Unsurprisingly, this coarse synthesis of anger, resentment and paranoia has hatched forms of activism that corrode civic harmony and lead to a desire by many to elect people blindered by ideological allegiance. To put it bluntly, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between satire and reality.
Compromise, which as we know, was the means to how our country’s government and laws were created, now appears to be less popular than sticking it to people with whom you may disagree.
What prevails now is an ethos of fear and vilification. Those of us who aspire to such a lofty ideal as an informed public inspired by optimistic conceptions of social solidarity are drowned out by too many people who want to point fingers and choose sides.
So what’s a moderate to do? Self-tunneling despair is always an option, though not one I would recommend. Disengaging into apathy is also not advisable as there are already tens of millions of enlistees to the cause of no cause. What seems wisest is for moderates everywhere to continue to advance the principles and practice of calm, rational discussion.
While it is true that reasoning is tough business in a culture that finds critical thinking about as sexy as plaid upholstery, it’s our only hospitable way forward. Reasoning, combined with active listening, compassion and a commitment to the greater good, remains our clearest hope for leadership that best reflects what is good about ourselves and other people.
When all the high decibel jabbering quiets down and the trumped-up moral panic recedes, there still will be people of earnest good will, moderate views and notions of constructive compromise ready to work together. I believe that is what most citizens truly want. Adam Hill represents the 3rd District on the Board of Supervisors.