Re­ally mak­ing Amer­ica great again

The Progress-Index - - OPINION -

Amer­i­cans have taken sides again — this time over who’s to blame for a fed­eral shut­down that has en­tered its third week with no end in sight.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump blames con­gres­sional Democrats for fail­ing to pass a bud­get bill that in­cludes $5 bil­lion for the bor­der wall he promised vot­ers dur­ing his cam­paign.

Democrats blame Trump for us­ing the shut­down as po­lit­i­cal weapon, at the ex­pense of tax­pay­ers and fur­loughed fed­eral work­ers, to get a waste-of-money wall he boasted Mex­ico would pay for any­way.

Once again, peo­ple on both sides present this po­lit­i­cal dis­pute as false dilemma. You’re ei­ther with us or against us, friend or foe, good or evil, right or wrong. Dis­agree or ex­press an opin­ion counter to ei­ther tribe’s dogma and get ready to be be­rated, ridiculed or os­tra­cized.

In an ideal world, such de­bate would be healthy. Both sides would ac­cept that peo­ple have dif­fer­ences of opin­ion, lis­ten to each other with open minds and use rea­son and logic to reach a com­pro­mise ev­ery­one can live with, one that ac­tu­ally might do some good.

Any­body re­mem­ber the last time that hap­pened in Wash­ing­ton? Or on your fa­vorite prime-time TV com­men­tary pro­gram? Or on your Face­book page?

What a sad and tire­some state of af­fairs, es­pe­cially in a na­tion so many around the world still look to for lead­er­ship when it comes to free­dom and democ­racy.

I scrolled through some of the po­lit­i­cal vit­riol and re­crim­i­na­tion on my cell­phone a few days ago when I en­coun­tered this promis­ing head­line: “How can we re­spond to ram­pant po­lar­iza­tion? Look to Catholic so­cial teach­ing.”

The story, pub­lished Dec. 31 by the Catholic News Ser­vice, ap­pears on the web­site “Amer­ica: The Je­suit Re­view of Faith & Cul­ture.” In it, peo­ple who have stud­ied the prob­lem and worked on so­lu­tions of­fer some poignant ob­ser­va­tions. They dis­cuss the po­lar­iza­tion that af­fects not only the na­tion but the church, which faces divi­sion be­tween Catholic Repub­li­cans and Democrats over whether Pope Fran­cis is too lib­eral.

Here are a few state­ments in the story that stand out to me:

• Amer­i­cans’ di­vi­sive­ness is rooted in “fear, cyn­i­cism and anger,” says John Carr, di­rec­tor of Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s Ini­tia­tive on Catholic So­cial Thought and Pub­lic Life. And that not only leads to alien­ation but feeds tribal iden­ti­ties in pol­i­tics where peo­ple de­fine them­selves by who or what they are against rather than what they might do to­gether. Bishop Christo­pher J. Coyne of Burling­ton, Vt., says the church should guard against let­ting the small per­cent­age of peo­ple on the left and the right “drive the bus.””The sad­dest thing is when you en­counter the per­son who is so con­vinced of their right­eous­ness that they’ve lost all sense of char­ity,” he said. “Those of us in the mod­er­ate mid­dle ei­ther way have to be will­ing to be bold and say ex­actly what the church’s teach­ing is and not al­low the ex­tremes to say who we are.” “The dan­ger in our cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate is that the peo­ple of the United States will come to ac­cept the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal divi­sion, ni­hilism, hypocrisy and anger in our cul­ture as nor­mal,” says Bishop Robert W. McEl­roy of San Diego.

I don’t know about you, but I can re­late to what they’re say­ing. I can also re­late to a so­lu­tion the story says Pope Fran­cis has suggested: Come to see per­ceived en­e­mies as real peo­ple, de­serv­ing of re­spect and dig­nity.

You don’t have to be re­li­gious to un­der­stand the wis­dom in such a sug­ges­tion. You just have to be will­ing to put into prac­tice some­thing that is eas­ier said than done.

Keith Mag­ill is the ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor at the The Courier in Houma, La. and Daily Comet in Thi­bo­daux, La. He can be reached at 985-857-2201 or keith.mag­[email protected]­to­day. com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @Couri­erEdi­tor.

Keith Mag­ill

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