Matthew Owen and Political ^* Polarization


Mr. Owen began his most recent Lost Post Outpost screed with a clever play on words.  He contends America (and by inference Humboldt) is in the midst of a Civility War as “this country is more polarized today than at any time since the Civil War. Back then it was the North vs. the South. Today, it’s the Left vs. the Right.

Despite the my appreciation of the “Civility War” pun, I couldn’t disagree with this statement more.

bar_magnetPolarization has been a buzzword for political talkers and typers from both sides of the aisle for as long as I can remember.  What is generally meant by the word, including the way Mr. Owen uses it in his piece, is there is a bifurcated political agenda in our country.  There are extreme left and right poles which are both attracting an increasing number of people leaving a broad center and vital center empty.

Matthew, of course, famously sees himself smack-dab in the middle of this vacuous center. We can infer from his writings that his call is to people from both sides to join him in this  middle in a sort-of kumbaya session with a corporate dress code.

The problem with this story, imho, is it’s a dangerous and misleading lie.  I contend it’s a lie Matthew himself believes, and would like to impose on others because it naturally puts him, along with his friends and family which shared ideas, in the center of decision-making.

There are two reasons I feel Mr. Owen’s contention that “this country is more polarized today” is wrong.

1)  As a nation, we are not more polarized at any time since the Civil War.  We have gone through several economic and political upheavals in the century and a half since the civil war including, significantly, the political polarization of FDR’s governing coalition vs the opposition economic royalists (from President Roosevelt’s perspective).  To pretend that we are somehow more polarized now than in, say 1935, or even 1985 is a-historical and feeds the fear that leads people to disassociate themselves from a more vital and rightly contentious public process.

2) It actually supports the trend and narrative to promote the real problem in America and in Humboldt County: asymmetric political polarization.

Here is what I mean.  I agree with Mr. Owen that there is a significant political divide between those on the left and right in our country today.  However, for various reasons, including because a tidy profit can be made from talking conservative politics, the right currently owns populism. This has meant that while Democrats and their proponents in media *HI!* are busy promoting snoozers like governing, regulating marketplaces, due process, sustainability and equality those who will eventually support Republican candidates can simply blame all our problems on Mexicans and Muslims and liberals.

This, by the way, while governing by quietly handing the keys to the very business and religious leaders government is meant to help moderate given that America is made up of a pluralistic society that has grown to depend on a strong middle class.

Of course this is a somewhat unfair (and polarizing?) over-simplification, but but if you are paying attention to where we’ve been since Nixon and where we are in the Trump era, the asymmetry of our politics, becomes more clear.  And this isn’t a problem with Matthew’s “regressives”, it is a problem with a continued migration of the right wing from insincere, to untrustworthy, to now, clinically bonkers.

Donald Trump was NOT elected with a full-throated campaign by Rush Limbaugh (Locally-owned Eureka Broadcasting‘s KINS 9 to 12), who had to couch his tepid support with a fear of losing listeners.   Another virulent conservative, KINS afternoon talker Mark Levin was, well, virulently anti-Trump.  Both Rush and Mark Levin are the political standard-bearers for anti-establishment conservatives and have been for  decades.

Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and others have spend the post-Nixon era pushing the Republican consensus (ie the pole of polarization) further and further away from what was seen as a Northeastern establishment elitist conservative culture that was the Republican norm in Nixon’s day.  Today, very few old-timey moderate Republicans remain in the halls of power.  One of these endangered species is Maine Senator Susan Collins, another, arguably, is Senator John McCain.  Christine Todd Whitmann, former Governor of New Jersey and EPA Administrator under George W. Bush famously wrote a book asking for her (Republican) party back. I could go on (Jim Jeffords) and on (The Mitt Romney who once was a supporter of Massachusetts’ RomneyCare)…

But during the Republican nominating process, fringy populist Republican candidate Donald Trump was too fringy even for the likes of KINS conservatives such as Rush and Mark Levin [1].

Example of asymmetry:  Asymmetricly sized inauguration crowds.

The Trump candidacy was first fueled by the fringe of conservative politics. His most fervent support in the media came from radio talkers like Alex Jones and Michael Savage(For those of you unfamiliar with either, may God continue to bless you.)

This connection Donald Trump had to populist conservative media personalities who depend on misinformation for their way of life helps to explain why ideas like 3 to 5 million fraudulent votes exists as a thing in the head of our current President. I would guestimate that 90 to 99% of Republican officials understand what an atrocious and …innumerate… lie this head-thought is.  While many Republicans will quietly admit publicly this can’t be true, all of them also know that this lie is critical to their electoral successes.

This is the danger our country, and I’d say our county, is facing.  We are dangerously out of balance and the problem isn’t polarization, it’s an unconscious, yet systemic, asymmetric polarization.

Here is an example.  Imagine for one moment if Democrats would not allow a nominee of a Republican President to even get a hearing in Congress, FOR A YEAR!  Just imagine.  Imagine the hours of righteous indignation that would pollute stations like KINS hour after hour day after day in county after county until the next election.  How do you think that would have affected the results of the next election?

And you know what?  If the roles had been reversed, if Democrats blocked a Republican President from being able to appoint a nominee, I along with many other liberals would have supported that indignation.

Liberal or progressive leaders should understand that their base believes in a fair and just governing system, which I contend means this hypothetical reversal would never have happened in the first place.

Matthew, it’s not polarization that is the problem, it’s asymmetric polarization.  We all need Lincoln’s Republican Party [2] back and I think as a former Reagan devotee YOU could be one of the people fighting to get this back rather than uncivilly calling out the heart and soul of the Democratic Party as “regressives”.

Obviously this will not be the path to return to a sane, and yes, “environmentally sustainable” Humboldt or American governing coalition away from the right-wing brink.  In our case locally, it is simply not in your interest of local conservative politicians to take on their hateful base from within the Republican Party.  And nationally?  Republicans are doing just fine with Rush Limbaugh, then Tea Party, then Trump populist conservatism, (thank you very much).  Why would they do anything to change?

I believe that as Americans, we will find our way back from this ongoing national Republican drive to ungovern that, from this regressive’s perspective, is so clearly driven by increasing doses of fear stoking hatred so those 40% of our population continue to be unaware that they don’t have to be OK with a national economy that allows them ownership of less than 1% of our nation’s wealth while 20% of our population owns 85%.

Even a polarized system can be in balance.  We are not in balance, something else is the problem.


[1] Levin’s protest against Trump sadly didn’t include the general election.

[2] Bring Back the Party of Lincoln, NYT op-ed by Heather Cox Richardson 9/3/2014.

Administrative note on comments.  In case Matthew is one of the 4 readers of this blog when his name is mentioned prominately, I have changed the comment setting so each comment has to be approved prior to be published.  No anonymous commenters here, at least until Mr. Owen’s writings are not a topic.

Matthew, consider this your digital safe zone from the anonymous left.  No name calling you all!  If you are even thinking “douchebag”, maybe articulate this differently.  Start with “I disagree with you Mr. M, stridently, on …. and here’s why…”.




One thought on “Matthew Owen and Political ^* Polarization

  1. MOLA42 says:

    I hope I’m not too anonymous:

    The truth is we need each other. No one side has all the answers and no one approach works in all situations. This nation was built on compromise and consensus from day one and when we turn those concepts into “dirty words” we loose our way.

    That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to fight for what we believe is right. It means we listen to each other and find a path to the future we all can live with, just as we have done for the most part for the past 200-plus years.

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