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Today's challenges show us we need to better understand each other

Peter Goodman

Commentary: My first column written in 2022 is a chance to contemplate how we’re doing.

We still face a pandemic, a powerful internal attack on our democracy, and economic inequality that’s grown to absurd levels, while climate change looms like Death in The Seventh Seal.

Yet we’re persevering. How can we do that better?

The pandemic endangers our health and economy, as well as our mental-emotional equilibrium and our patience. The Trump-inspire attack on our democracy is the worst we’ve seen for 160 years. The violence a year ago was designed to support a coup, in which politicians would veto the electoral vote. It failed narrowly because some Republicans chose democracy over thievery. Other Republicans are changing election laws in swing states to facilitate a similar theft in 2024.

Today I’m less interested in debating details than in assessing how these and other challenges are affecting us personally, and how we can maintain our ability to communicate.

Everyone knows today’s excessive political partisanship (which has turned the pandemic into pigskin) endangers our civility, and our democracy. You can’t run a country, city, or radio station without talking AND LISTENING to each other. Economic inequality is not only bad for poor folks, and for our economy, and just-plain-wrong, it widens the chasm between people.

I’ve no answer to all that.

But let’s start by admitting we’re falling into mindless team loyalty. Let’s also admit we’ve each helped create that, or deepen it. No matter how firmly we each feel we’re on the side of Science, God, Truth, Democracy, or Justice, we’re mostly being jerks about it. We’re so determined to score political points that we don’t hear each other. Meanwhile, the pandemic-based isolation is wearing on us.

It’s easy to point out that the Trumpists’ Herculean efforts to uncover material faults in the 2020 election failed. Trump himself appears not to believe it, but rakes in huge contributions and creates great political energy by shouting “Election Steal!”

The harder part is to recall that the folks sending Trump money and praising him on the Internet are fellow human beings, fellow U.S. citizens, fellow community members; recognize that most of them love many of the same things we do, and are NOT evil; and do the hard work of ‘sussing out why our friends, neighbors, and cousins are believing such blatant lies. From the start of this sad six-year episode in our history, it’s been clear that Mr. Trump did not invent the real problems and perceived slights that groomed these folks to follow him like the Pied Piper.

Without understanding why people follow Trump, and why many believe non-Trumpists are evil, we’re lost. We can beat them, or lose to them; but we can’t erase this toxic partisanship that’s poisoning us and our well of democracy. So let’s redouble our efforts to seek out our “opponents” and hear them. Some are violent, some are racist, some are political opportunists or con artists; but most are folks just trying to survive, as we are.

I don’t belittle the danger we’re in. With encouragement from significant government officials, a violent mob forced its way into the Capitol, threatening death to political opponents, battering and even killing police, trying to overturn a presidential election. Now a significant minority of Congresspersons and right-wing opinion-makers deny it happened, blame Antifa, or suggest it was just a picnic.

That’s scary – and magnifies the importance of understanding each other.