Now that some of the dust has settled from the Aug. 6 GOP presidential debate, I’d like to share something that stood out for me.
Among the many exchanges between Donald Trump and others on the stage, Sen. Rand Paul said something I find to be particularly telling. Paul looked at Trump and said something to the effect that Trump couldn’t be a Republican because he supports a single payer health plan. He made those comments not long after Trump had refused to pledge his support to the eventual nominee, when Trump said he would have to wait to see if it was someone he respected — a statement that got Trump a lot of criticism.
That, in my opinion, is a microcosm of our society today: We’ve come to a point where we have to label everyone, and if a person or entity doesn’t fit within that narrow label we agree with, we call them names and tell everyone they are our enemy.
I see this locally as well.
Personally I tend to lean conservative on most issues, yet I’ve been labeled a flaming, Godless liberal by some and a arch-right-wing fascist by others. I often laugh when people throw these sorts of labels at me, though I shouldn’t because it’s sad. They are making wild generalizations based, usually, on a single editorial, column, or statement. I could write 27 things from a decidedly conservative viewpoint, write one thing more leftist leaning and suddenly I’m a member of that liberal, left-wing media that doesn’t care for “American values.”
I’ll give you a specific example. A few years ago some local residents formed a Surry County chapter of the Tea Party.
We did a story about them, covered a couple of their events, and we wrote an editorial praising their efforts. We weren’t so much supporting their politics, but we were praising the fact that this was a group of people who didn’t like the way politics were being handled at the state and national level, and rather than post on Facebook or sit around and complain, they went out and did something about it. They became engaged in the political process, an action we found — and still find — laudable.
Leaders of that organization called to praise us, telling us they appreciated our coverage, one even said “You get it. You really get what we’re doing.”
A few months later we opted not to cover another one of their events. Not because we had any issue with their politics, it just wasn’t an event we chose to cover given our schedule and what else was happening in the community.
Suddenly, we were part of that elitist, left-wing, communistic media that was out to destroy everything good about America. Several people called to complain, stating their leaders claimed we told them we’d never cover their events again, which we simply never said.
And there it was. We had done something they liked, so we were good, then we disagreed with them in that we didn’t feel like covering an event was something we should do and now we were labeled bad, evil, left-wing. The enemy.
This sort of group-think and labeling leads to what we saw last week in Raleigh. One of our reporters was there, talking with State Sen. Shirley Randleman, our representative in that chamber of the General Assembly. He asked her a question regarding the effort led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown to radically change how sales tax money is distributed in the state. Randleman was a co-signer of the original bill.
Randleman gave the well-worn party talking points, which really didn’t answer the questions posed to her, so our reporter asked again, pointing out that most of her constituents were against the plan. She repeated the talking points without answering the question, and when he attempted to talk with her about the concept our state senator simply turned and walked away.
I’m really not certain if Randleman did this because she doesn’t understand the bill and isn’t capable of engaging in a thoughtful, reasoned discussion, or if she’s afraid that any quote outside the party line will get her labeled as uncooperative, disloyal, or even worse, a liberal.
This, ultimately, is the result of looking at people and organizations through narrow-minded, simple labels. The idea of actual, reasoned discussion, of compromise that accomplishes a greater good (something which President Ronald Reagan, a GOP deity, was a master at), goes away.
And that brings us to where we are today. We let simple-minded labels cloud everything we do, politics becomes who screams the loudest and gets the most labels to stick, and then most of us simply walk away from the political process, leaving the governing in the hands of a very few.