Juan Williams, the left-leaning Fox News commentator (they do have them), was on the air on Friday talking about the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch and the parliamentary gyrations that had to get executed in order for the vote to proceed. Predictably, since neither he nor anyone else could fault the new justice's impeccable credentials, he had to make a different kind of comment.
It was, Williams explained, evidence of how divided we are as a nation. He did not elaborate, but he did not have to, either. We knew what he meant; and, beyond that, it was said by Williams to press the implication that we are divided because of the partisanship rampant in the nation, as if it were a new thing.
Now, I have explained in the past that the partisanship in Congress, as opposed to in the country at large, is, as mentioned inside this piece, forced on us by judicial overreach in the name of the sad and bigoted notion that only a black representative can represent a district with a high black population. The resulting redistricting made safe districts for both parties (the outlying areas were far more conservative, and thus equally safe) and thus more leftist and more conservative the safer they were made.
The problem is that Williams' statement makes us think that because Congress is so newly hyper-partisan, it means that America is newly hyper-partisan. And that part is not true, at least the "newly" part of it. We have always been that way.
What is different now is simply the number of outlets we have, both for seeing the news (all-day cable news stations, where 50 years back the news was an hour at night), and for commenting on it (Facebook, Twitter, comment sections like the one below here).
With all that extra communication, we focus on the news a whole lot more. Fifty years back, we had the start of the protests over the Vietnam War, and I don't think it is a stretch to say that the era was hyper-partisan. The Democrats had the White House and Congress, and got the brunt of the protesting through 1969, until Richard Nixon was elected and the protesting shifted to him. Youth is nothing if not flexible, especially when their cowardice is showing, mixed with youthful idealism, altruism and arrogance.
It just seems that humans appear to have an argumentative streak that shows up at the slightest provocation. Compound that with the fact that we now have an absurdly large number of media available to us to vent on, and the quality of venting has declined as its quantity has increased.
As the quality has declined, so has the associated civility. If you disagree with my published point, you must be a jerk, or a moron, or a contemptible offspring of the town drunk and village prostitute. Civil discussion online is rare as hen's teeth.
That incivility has spread to Congress, in the form of the kind of partisanship that forbids Democrats from supporting even a good idea (or, in Justice Gorsuch's case, a good nominee) that comes from the Republicans, and certainly not from Donald Trump. In fact, you could argue that Trump's election was a victory for anti-partisanship, in the sense that to an extent he was rejected by both parties but embraced by the electorate. Yet it has exacerbated the partisanship on the Hill.
We disagree for the same reasons we always did. As W. S. Gilbert wrote, and Private Willis of the Grenadier Guards sang, as he observed the comings and goings in Parliament in Iolanthe in 1882,
"... that every boy and every gal
That's born into the world alive
Is either a little liberal
Or else a little conservative"
We are not going to try to blame anyone for what seems to be excessive divide in our nation. We are innately that way, excessively divided and hyper-partisan, whether in Gilbert's Victorian England, or in Chuck Schumer's head.
It ain't getting better.
Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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