In celebration of 227 years of declared independence, America’s split political personality has chosen to play itself out in Utah this Fourth of July weekend. With the Rainbow Family frolicking (do “hippies” still frolic?) in the Uintas, and conservative blowhard Sean Hannity hosting the Freedom Festival some 75 miles away in Provo, Utahns have a ringside seat for 21st-century America’s version of The Great Schism.
Could there be a starker contrast? The Rainbow Family, bless its collective heart, is peopled by innocents, and you have to admire their ability to avoid reality. I remember my youthful days hanging out in similar tribes more vividly than law-enforcement propaganda at the time suggested I’d be able to at this point in my life.
Meanwhile, Hannity, who equates liberals with terrorists and attacks both with equal fervor, brings his Antics Roadshow to BYU’s Lavell Edwards Stadium, where presumably he will sacrifice a fatted Democrat and gorge himself on raw rhetoric.
OK, so the comparison is pat, but let’s face it: This is a country dangerously out of political balance. Since the 1994 election, when Newt Gingrich declared an end to civility and initiated a scorched-earth strategy against the left, we have been a nation at war with itself. Hannity, whose book Let Freedom Ring excoriates the political beliefs of millions of loyal Americans, is the latest member of a right-wing special ops unit whose interest is not in promoting the general welfare but in laying waste to the opposition. Meanwhile, the Democrats by and large still act like members of the Rainbow Family.
If this sounds one-sided, then you haven’t been paying attention. The right is shooting live rounds, and the left, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan after the attempt on his life, is forgetting to duck. The war in Iraq has emboldened self-righteous cultural despots like Anne Coulter to declare anyone who questions the war to be a traitor, and she is not merely hyperbolizing to make a point; she believes that. Lately, there has even been an effort to rehabilitate the historical legacy of the greatest red-baiter of them all, the late-Sen. Joe McCarthy. In the famous words of gambling addict Bill Bennett: Where is the outrage?
There used to be Republicans in this country who called themselves progressives. My grandfather was one of them. They were good fiscal managers, avoided divisive social issues (even good ones, like equal rights) and concentrated on how best to improve people’s lives. Similarly, there used to be Democrats who were not afraid to stand up for the little guy and who would speak truth to corporate power.
Between them, these political adversaries often managed to work out their differences and do the right thing. Neither side made a habit of questioning the other’s patriotism.
It helps to remember that it was a Republican who freed the slaves, a Republican (Sen. Gaylord Nelson) who helped found Earth Day, a Republican (John McCain) who is fighting for campaign finance reform. Supporting people motivated by service to society and the common good, regardless of party—and that means sometimes voting for Democrats—is the only way back from the political abyss. Following extremists like Hannity will surely lead us into it.
Have a happy Fourth.