Monday, May 6, 2013

NRA and the next Civil War

[Sigh].  I debated with myself whether to comment on the first speech of new NRA President and Alabama good old boy Jim Porter.

I mean, he's obviously following the new NRA playbook which is to sound as inflammatory as possible, scare as many gun owners as possible, in order to sell as many expensive, militarized firearms as possible to a shrinking pool of gun-owning households.

But Big Jim went over the top.  He flirted with Birtherism.  He sided with Iran, N. Korea and Syria in opposing the UN small arms treaty that concerns arms dealers, not citizens.  But worst of all, he brought up the Civil War.  That tore it.

Sure, give a crusty old Alabaman a mic and a national audience and he's going to mention either Bear Bryant or the Civil War. I get it.

But he told a bald lie: that "down South," they call the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression."  I'm from the South, I lived 4 years in Alabama, and I never heard anybody call it that, not even a so-called Professor of Southern Studies.  

But even worse was his obvious implication: that another Civil War is coming. Between North and South, or Blue and Red states, or urban and rural counties, or a disappearing white majority and everybody else.  It's being fought on all those fronts and more.

This is indeed where we're headed, folks.  And remember, 29 percent of Americans think armed insurrection against our government may be necessary.

Understand, I'm not terribly worried about real armed rebellion, although enough violent kooks will take matters into their own hands.  No, such polls are a testament to the violence being committed against our political culture, our sense of national unity.  Our nation is being torn apart, politically, and increasingly, culturally.  It was already divided economically and ethnically.    

What's going to hold us all together?  What do we all agree on anymore?  How are we going to solve our real problems, like persistent unemployment (especially youth unemployment), ballooning student debt, caring for our elderly, addressing the rising cost of health care and education, wrapping up two disastrous wars, and having a long-term plan for our budget and national debt?  And when will we ever have a chance to talk about all this without killing each other?

Partly, I think it's the media's fault; they've been divided for a long time, because sensation and shouting is better for their ratings.  The media, especially cable news and talk radio, spend hours a day trying to get us all riled up about stupid shit like birth certificates so that there's no time left to talk about substance.  It's a distraction technique, it creates an addiction to anger and a belief in quick, easy answers, and it works terribly well.  That's why I was hesitant to even comment on Jim Porter's buffoonish remarks that were meant to divide us.

But it's also our fault.  Or mostly our fault.  Yes, ordinary Americans.  When there is no occasion or need for liberals, conservatives and independent to talk to each other anymore, then rigid stereotypes and political caricatures replace "the other guy," the cable-radio echo chamber replaces citizens' dialog and debate, and civility breaks down.  

When I'm at home in the South, which isn't often these days, and politics comes up at a gathering of polite semi-strangers, (for me, that's usually in a bar), at the first opportunity I tell the other guys, usually Republicans, "I have to admit, I'm a big lefty liberal and I voted for Obama twice."  After they get over the shock of my admitting that so openly on "enemy" territory, with a smile on my face, the conversation usually goes pretty well.  Nobody has yet spit on the ground and walked away.  

We usually end up agreeing we share most of the same values, like the importance of family, hard work, liberty, tolerance and neighborliness... as well as taking care of our weak and unfortunate brothers and sisters.  

What we certainly disagree about is how our common values should be expressed in terms of government policy.  But it makes for an entirely different and more productive conversation when we seek to define common ground, and don't start the discussion with "liberals hate America," or "conservatives are Nazis."  

The point is that it's OK to be partisan, it's OK to have strong opinions, as long as we're honest, forthright, fair and we listen.  That's the essence of civility.  We used to have that in America.  I hope we haven't lost it, myself included.

By Rick Ungar
May 3, 2013 | Forbes

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