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Deep political divides can lead to despair — or to action

Sometimes I want to cover my eyes and my ears. Stop listening to the news. Hide out somewhere, anywhere that seems safe — if such a place even exists.

Elizabeth NagelElizabeth Nagel

Bonnie Blodgett wrote a column in the Star Tribune that explored the economic issues facing this country. Her interesting premise was that “fascism is capitalism without boundaries” — and that we are spiraling into becoming a country ruled by fascism.

Blodgett related how President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, born wealthy, understood that part of Wall Street was a gambling mentality that included outwitting federal regulation. Thus, he established the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), giving the country its longest period of financial stability. Blodgett believes today’s economic slide began with President Ronald Reagan’s deregulation of “pesky governmental red tape and impediments to the consolidation of everything from banking to agriculture.”

Blodgett’s theory is just one of many theories trying to explain the deep divide in this country — and why Congress has been polarized into paralysis. Whether you buy her interpretation of history or not probably does not depend on the validity of her argument. Rather, your response to her thoughts hinges on how you view the connection between politics and economics.

Democracy ‘in its death throes’

It was the last paragraph in her column that caught me up short. She said that economics always overrules politics. But it was her statement that “Our democracy is now in its death throes” that was frightening.

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Our democracy is now in its death throes? How could democracy be dying in my beloved country? A country where democracy and America are so wedded together.

A Washington Post columnist, E.J. Dionne, proposes another theory. He takes a long look at this country’s history to find explanations for the deep polarization. In his newest book, “Our Divided Political: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent,” he explores the complex factors of how we have arrived at this place of deep division. He believes that tension between our desire for freedom as individuals and the need for “a self governing community” are basic components of our historical DNA.

For those who would like to hear more about how he arrived at his conclusions, Dionne will speak at Westminster Town Hall Forum on June 15, at 7 pm. in Minneapolis. At least in his writing, there are possibilities that might lead to solutions – rather than the dire prediction for the future suggested by Blodgett.

A worldwide phenomenon

However, such deep divisions are not an American phenomenon. Go almost anywhere in the world and you will confront the same issues. Only names of religions or politicians vary from place to place. Likewise, definitions of who is seen as enemy and the level of instability depends on where you live.

In some places, a war of words separates people. In other places, words are replaced with guns. People are dying under horrible circumstances — all for the right to impose one set of premises on entire populations.

No matter what a person believes, there are enough theories about the path the world is taking to give everyone the choice of a theory to fit their particular perspective. Some of the theories make sense. Some of them are chilling in their prognosis. Other theories predict an apocalyptic future.

Sometimes I want to cover my eyes and my ears. Stop listening to the news. Hide out somewhere, anywhere that seems safe — if such a place even exists. It is so easy to get sucked into despair in the heat of political arguments — and in the teetering of the stock market, unemployment, legislators vacating their seats because the governing process is not working, the reality of killing massacres, and all the other issues facing us today.

Daring to challenge

Manal al-Sharif covers herself in accordance with the customs of Saudi Arabia. But last summer, she dared to challenge the Saudi edict that forbids women to drive. She took her protest one step further — and uploaded a video clip of her driving around the city of Riyadh on YouTube. She was arrested, held without charges for nine days, and released after only after considerable international pressure.

On June 17, Women2Drive Campaign is planning a second major protest against the driving ban. Al-Sharif believes that such protests can empower women who are silenced in her country But she won’t join them because she fears for her family’s safety.

However, she has not stopped speaking out. She was invited to speak this May in Norway at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human-rights conference. There she was given an award for “creative dissent.” However, price for speaking out was a high one — going to the conference cost al-Sharif her job.

She ended her speech at the forum by saying that the “rain begins with a single drop.”

Her words and courage draw me back to some words I wrote a while ago:


some people fall off edges

while other people push edges


some people dance in circles

while other people ask questions


some people are easily forgotten

while some people are unforgettable


some people are all it takes

to change the world

Elizabeth Nagel is a Twin cities writer and poet. She teaches writing in various commuity settings. She and her husband maintain a blog,


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