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Greenville Business Magazine

There is nothing ‘unprecedented’ about today’s heated political climate

Nov 07, 2018 09:13AM ● By Kathleen Maris
By Jason Zacher

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
     — Charles Dickens,  A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

It’s hard to tell if Charles Dickens wrote those words 160 years ago about the French Revolution or if he could have written them today.

Immediately following last year’s shooting at the GOP Congressional baseball game practice, I wrote a column pleading with people to stop the anger and elevate the rhetoric. In the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, I’m compelled to revisit the topic. 

We — as Americans, as a society, as rational adults — must address the anger in this country. The Kavanaugh hearings hinged on explosive allegations, and we shouldn’t run from those discussions. As friends on both sides of the aisle have had time to digest the hearings, nearly all of them have bemoaned the media and political circus that became the U.S. Supreme Court nomination.

Public policy is never a zero-sum game. The goal should always be to push forward the best interests of a community. If someone wins, it doesn’t mean somebody loses. Yet, somehow, we’ve gotten to a point where policy is not only a zero-sum game; the objective is to destroy the opposition. It is no longer good enough to simply win. We must win at all costs.

None of this is “unprecedented,” as the breaking news crawls must characterize everything these days. Presidents Adams, Jackson, Cleveland, and Taft would easily recognize today’s partisan political brawls. Political brawls — actual drunken fights with injuries — were common during the 1860 campaign, a time when there were more dire political winds blowing than what blows today.

The Upstate Chamber Coalition heard from Major Garrett, the CBS News chief White House correspondent, when we visited Washington in September. He theorized that the reason why the media says everything is unprecedented is because media outlets are crammed with young reporters who don’t have any experience. It’s an interesting point. I posted on Facebook back in October that “the only thing unprecedented in American politics these days is our use of the term ‘unprecedented.’”

I write this column before the November elections have been decided, so I won’t dare make any predictions on where we’re going. But I hope that somewhere, a new generation of leaders will be elected who will provide a positive vision for our country and community. The business leaders I speak with every day hunger for it. 

It’s important to remember that we brought this upon ourselves. We seek impossible ideological purity from our elected officials. We sit in rapt attention to the inflammatory talking heads on primetime television. We click through to dubious websites and inflate their profitability, forcing them to “report” even more outrageous and truly fake news. We have blithely cheapened words with very serious meanings, words such as “hate,” “treason,” and “revolution.” 

Yet, there are hopeful signs. An Axios poll in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings showed that 76 percent of respondents said workplace discussions about the nomination were “respectful.” Another 11 percent said there was a sharing of prior assaults — another positive result. 

We must address the concept that compromise is weakness. We can begin at the local and state level — the laboratories of democracy. 

The Upstate faces some serious challenges — affordable housing, transit, workforce re-entry — and there are broad coalitions working to fix them. The work we do here, the civil debate, the care for the least of those in our community, will rise to the state level and on to Washington.

If we deplore the behavior we see in our national leaders, we must model the change we seek. Start it right here. Start it now.

“Everywhere I go people stop to ask,  ‘Are these the worst of times?’ No, they’re not; history reassures us.”
     — Doris Kearns Goodwin