America’s political silos


The “culture wars” is an expansive twenty-first century phenomenon encompassing a variety of issues that have been absorbed into the dogma of America’s political parties. In the sacred arena of our democracy, this partisan deterioration is manifest in a reality where political party loyalty is deemed more important than solving the countless social, economic and security challenges facing our country.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a career diplomat serving in four different Democratic and Republican administrations, recently released a new book “The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens”. He begins by saying, “The most urgent and significant threat to American security and stability stems not from abroad but from within, from political divisions that for the only second time in U.S. history have raised questions about the future of American democracy and even the United States itself.”

The context of our current political environment is self-evident. Ideologies are often locked into politically biased podcasts, cable news and entertainment programs, and silos that serve as towers of talking points to support particular political teams. These devices serve to energize our nation’s political atmosphere. As a result, what we experience today are culture war storms that wash away the open-minded and productive discussions and debates over policy issues, and the traditional dialogue of well-intentioned citizens that feeds a healthy democracy.

The result is that now, every day, we endure such sophomoric spasms of social guidance that tells us if you are anti-LGBTQ, you can’t drink Bud Light beer anymore, best switch to Mexico’s Modelo. Democrats drink Bud Light! Republicans drink Modelo! OK, the example is somewhat extreme, but unfortunately, not really.

Michael G. Vickers, former under secretary of defense for intelligence under President George W. Bush and then President Barack Obama, was featured this weekend in a Wall Street Journal story by Emily Borrow. In his new memoir “By All Means Possible”, he worries about America’s ability to compete both militarily and economically. Yet he is particularly worried about the rise of political polarization and the “fraying” of America’s social fabric. He expressed nostalgia for a time when politicians were more engaged in honest debate: “We’re going to need good leaders on both sides (of the aisle) if we hope to prevail in this new cold war.”

When I use the word “silos” to describe the isolated, unpollinated minds arrested to the complexities of today’s world, it’s really more than just partisan politics. Some seem especially focused on singular issues like anti-vaccine, white supremacy, anti-abortion, book banning, LGBTQ+ rights, critical-race theory. These one-trick cultural warriors seem singularly focused on very cultural and political tornadic activity.

The recent Supreme Court decisions once again raise the rhetoric about the alleged politicization of the court. Is this justice a reliable member of our conservative or liberal team?

For me, there’s nostalgia for the times when important issues were before the court and we were intrigued and unaware of how justices would weigh the different arguments on the basis of their merits, rather than on the basis of their apparent political affiliations.

These silos of American political thinking are a threat to American democracy. Richard Haass argues that the threat stems from the slow erosion of popular support for democracy’s underpinnings. He reminds us of our obligations as American citizens to put an end to the poisonous politics that are grinding away at this fraying fabric of American society.

Eddie Claude Jr., Princeton University professor of African American studies, praises Haass’ book as “a clear statement of our obligations to one another and to the country if this grand and fragile experiment in democracy is to survive.”

So how do we escape from these damaging silos? Haass’ “Bill of Obligations” is worth the read and stresses the importance of engagement. Suffice it to say, the 10 habits of good citizenship engagement are:

1. Be informed;

2. Get involved;

3. Stay open to compromise;

4. Remain civil;

5. Reject violence;

6. Value norms;

7. Promote the common good;

8. Respect government service;

9. Support teaching civics;

10.Put country first.

When we put country first and stay open to compromise, silos will be less of a hindrance to our democratic heritage.

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.

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