Crossing the divide: How we might get through the next few years together

The civility of our political discourse has declined significantly over recent years, for which the current incumbent in the White House must bear a significant share of the blame, at least for the portion that has occurred since he declared his candidacy.

Polarization across partisan and ideological lines seems routinely to hit new heights. An element of the polarization — which combines cause and effect in a downward spiral — is polarization of news media, creating new heights of selective perception and confirmation bias.

If you rely heavily on Fox News, you dwell on almost a different planet from those of your fellow citizens who rely on MSNBC.

It is unhealthy for a nation striving to remain and to function as a democratic republic to continue down this path. We need to read and watch and listen to the most reasonable voices from across the partisan/ideological divide. And we have to do so with respect and a sufficiently open mind that we might occasionally read or hear something that makes sense to us and, perhaps more important, something that enables us to view those with whom we disagree with a soupçon of understanding and respect, necessary and sufficient to continue viewing them as our fellow citizens.

Hats off to the New York Times for a special feature it ran today consisting of 15 letters to the editor from Trump supporters. I encourage Trump-dislikers (among whom I number myself) to read them. You won’t agree with much of anything in them. You will want to dispute some of their facts and most of their conclusions. You may suspect these 15 calm epistles are not typical of the tone and thinking of typical Trump supporters. But if you bring the right attitude to your reading assignment, the letters will promote the hope that we can get through three more years of this together.

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Tim Smith on 01/18/2018 - 02:16 pm.


    your call for making the world less divisive ends with a smug and condescending rant at your opposition? Nice, now where is that mirror?

    BTW, The President’s predecessor was pretty darn good at dividing. PC and Identity politics on steroids.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 01/18/2018 - 02:50 pm.

      The “president’s” successor

      was divisive because he spoke for all Americans, rather than just his base? Interesting take.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2018 - 03:11 pm.

      Tread Lightly

      No one who defends or supports our current President should have much to say about any other President’s “divisiveness.”

      • Submitted by Tim Smith on 01/18/2018 - 09:30 pm.


        Am not even defending the current, cant, just saying the truth ,,obvious. Its a choice how you look at the world.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/18/2018 - 10:25 pm.

        And we can also say that no one who defended and supported past incumbent (I guess if there is a current incumbent, then there is a past one) should be picking on the current one. And then we will stop wasting time on attacking each other’s favorite incumbent and start talking about issues… Or am I dreaming?

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/19/2018 - 10:08 am.


          “Picking on” the current incumbent in any office is an essential attribute of democracy. If the subject is the tenor of our discourse, then the conduct of the President is worthy of discussion.

          My point is that there is no comparison between President Obama’s “PC and identity politics on steroids,” which generally refers to his unfortunate habit of addressing racial issues from a non-white viewpoint, and the utterances of the incumbent President. President Trump took office after deriding captured POWs, Muslims, and after he disavowed the support of David Duke only after being asked about it repeatedly. Of course, he’s all for white males, so unity.

          • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/25/2018 - 12:38 pm.

            No. It refers to his unfortunate habit of attaching race to *every* issue.

            Never let it be said Obama didn’t know his base.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/18/2018 - 05:35 pm.


      White identity politics aren’t identity politics?

      Don Trump: The Unifier

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/18/2018 - 09:30 pm.

      Rant ?

      …speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned way….


      Language matters.

  2. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 01/18/2018 - 06:15 pm.


    Given that it’s the NYT, the letters that were published are at least well-crafted. Some sing Trump’s praises with nothing but vague admiration at their core while others pose interesting theories about the economy that ignore the long term consequences of stock market bubbles and deregulation that socializes risk and internalizes short term profit. Others place a high value on military prowess and attribute “success” to Trump without any evidence that his policies (?) have anything to do with whatever they mean by “success”. One lauds Trump for his Jerusalem decision. Fine and dandy if you don’t mind ignoring a situation that marginalizes Palestinians indefinitely and creates even more resentment and tension, not to mention that it has turned the world against us. One pompous dude tells us about his PhD and academic life and name drops Nassim Taleb just to let us know that chaos is just peachy – and that he’s really smart.

    I guess we’ll see. The bull market will end, and the piper will be paid on that and so many other things. Climate change will cost like sin. We will be unprepared to meet a pandemic. We will have squandered our chance to lead worldwide as China and others step in to fill the vacuum left by our abdication. It will be a tall order for the cleanup crew – whoever that might be – to try to put the country back together again once Trump and his supporters are in the rearview mirror.

    The worst is Trump’s coarsening of our public conversation, and I’m afraid these letters give me little hope for any return to civility.

  3. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/18/2018 - 10:24 pm.

    “We need to read and watch and listen to the most reasonable voices from across the partisan/ideological divide. And we have to do so with respect and a sufficiently open mind that we might occasionally read or hear something that makes sense to us and, perhaps more important, something that enables us to view those with whom we disagree with a soupçon of understanding and respect, necessary and sufficient to continue viewing them as our fellow citizens.” Hear, hear! I also learned a new word… Should we start with letting people express their opinions?

    I would also be interested in seeing how one “won’t agree with much of anything in them. You will want to dispute some of their facts and most of their conclusions.” All writers acknowledge that they don’t like Trump’s character much and hate his tweets… but his successful and good policies are what matters.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/19/2018 - 02:17 pm.

      There’s a difference

      between claiming a success
      and actually performing successfully.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/19/2018 - 07:53 pm.

      So far, in the United States everyone can state their own opinions. Some are too poor to be able to access anything other than their own dinner table crowd and not newspaper letters or MinnPost. But Donald Trump’s attempts to stifle any opinion he doesn’t like (like his attempt to prohibit the publication of “Fire and Fury,” the Wolff book and call news revelations he dislikes “fake news”) have not been successful–we have the First Amendment. He hates that, but it’s still there.

      What Trump has done is normalize his drunk-at-the-end-of-the-bar gutter language that seems to thrill his base so much. So Eric’s call for civility in discourse falls on Trump’s own deaf ears, as he spreads unpleasantness over the land.

      As for the opinions themselves: I believe (with millions who value our values) that government is a good thing, sensible regulations are a good thing, protecting the environment from human-made disaster is a good thing, and no one should die sick and hungry and abandoned if we can help it. We can help. Together.

      That’s an ideological difference that has nothing much to do with civility of address.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/21/2018 - 12:45 pm.

        “Donald Trump’s attempts to stifle any opinion he doesn’t like” Every president has done it, to one degree or another. The good thing is, as you pointed out, we have the First Amendment and so far all of them were unsuccessful. On the other hand, I hope you agree that the media lies are infuriating…

        “Eric’s call for civility in discourse falls on Trump’s own deaf ears” You can’t change Trump. So let’s apply it to ourselves and try to engage in a free and civil discussion about issues rather than call people names.

        “I believe (with millions who value our values) that government is a good thing, sensible regulations are a good thing, protecting the environment from human-made disaster is a good thing, and no one should die sick and hungry and abandoned if we can help it.” I am all for that. I am sure all non-liberal commenters here are all for that. And I am even positive that most Trump’s supporters are for that – with certain limitations. The devil is in details (and degrees). Government is necessary and is good so long as it does what it is supposed to do but when it starts grabbing more and more power, it’s not good anymore; in other words, more government is not necessarily good. Sensible regulations are also good but the key word here is sensible and there are plenty of government regulations now which are not. The same is true about protecting environment – it’s always good so long as it is reasonable. And sure, no one should die sick and hungry if we can help (and I don’t think anyone really does in America) but it’s not the same as giving everyone a house, a car, and a smart phone…

        So, as I said, let’s discuss issues and the degrees of things that are appropriate and helpful, not accuse each other of not caring.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/19/2018 - 08:30 am.

    My 2¢

    Having now read the letters, I give their authors full credit for sincerity, as I do the few people I know who voted for the Current Occupant. Sincerity, I’ve read, bears no relation to truth, and I’m sure that’s a sentiment that cuts both ways. That said, I also must point out that ideological blinders, while not at all exclusive to a particular party or political orientation, are especially evident in the letters, and in some of the commentary above. I’d argue that many of the letter-writers are delusional, but the past year has, if nothing else, demonstrated that name-calling is not a constructive way to talk about public policy.

    All presidents speak to their political bases, so complaining about that seems to me a dead end. Anyone who runs for office and wins has to make gestures and use rhetoric that will keep his or her allies in the fold. That doesn’t mean I like it, especially from someone who I think represents numerous undesirable personal characteristics, but it is what it is. What I see in many of the comments is a focus on individual trees, to the detriment of the forest as a whole.

    I’m waiting to talk to my accountant in a month to find out if the Republican tax bill will help or hurt me personally, but no one – no one – who purports to be concerned about the national debt should be comfortable with it. Supply-side economics, despite its continued popularity among a narrow segment of the body politic, doesn’t work, and never has. It’s been disowned, in fact, by its inventor. The last place it was tried in a full-blown experiment, in Kansas, has been an equally full-blown economic and policy disaster for the state of Kansas. Cutting taxes does not automatically fuel economic growth, nor make the economy function more equitably, nor does it somehow magically spur so much economic activity that revenue growth balances out the tax cuts. Everywhere that tax cuts in the name of economic growth have been tried – everywhere – they have failed to spur the economic growth attributed to them. When done on a large enough scale, the result has been a teetering on the edge of bankruptcy every time. I don’t think that’s a risk we should have to take.

    I do agree that “identity politics” is, or at least can be, divisive, but I also think the Constitution was written as an ideal, and even when it might make me uncomfortable personally, I continue to support that ideal, including efforts to translate it into the reality of a society that treats its citizens more equitably and equally. We still have work to do in that regard. As for “divisiveness,” RB Holbrook’s comment has already pretty much nailed it.

  5. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/19/2018 - 12:15 pm.

    The single issue I can’t get around is…

    The total disregard for the truth. Not a single Times contributor in the article addressed the importance of truth or the quality of it in this administration. Even before Trump, the path to polarization was paved with “alternative facts”. We are now at unprecedented levels. I read the opinions expressed by the Times readers and can appreciate their perceived positives as legitimate progress made towards their ideals: good for them, elections have consequences. But, as a nation, if we accept the facts as stated just because they come from the Supreme Leader we will soon be congratulating Mr. Trump on his 6 consecutive holes in one at Mar a Lago this weekend and the most impressive 150 he will score on the IQ test he will take as a part of his next physical. Accepting all of these perceived Trump “goodies” in exchange for marginalizing the truth is simply a trade we, as citizens, cannot justify and should not make PERIOD!

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/19/2018 - 05:50 pm.

    Manufactured narrative

    We’re not polarized, we have clear majorities that support clear initiatives and oppose Republican agendas. The problem isn’t a impossible divide, the problem is a political system that represents the elite at the expense of the majority. The way forward is for the majority to assert it’s mandates. Trump and the Republicans enjoy historically high levels of unpopularity.

    The “polarized” narrative simply reinforces a status quo comfort zone by pretending that there’s a magical middle where we don’t have to actually develop or implement effective policy, we’ll just get along, as long as we’re polite and shaking hands we have good government. This could easily morph into a suicidal form of denial, a denial that pretends we can just shake hands with reactionaries who are inflicting massive damage on our nation and fellow Americans. It’s a form of denial that focuses on the cosmetic appearance of government rather than it’s inability to serve it’s constituents. Flat wages, rampant sexism, racism, police violence, climate change, millions without health care or affordable college… whatever, the IMPORTANT thing we shake hands and don’t call each other names.

    The way we get through this is by fighting and defeating (politically, not violently) defeat Trump and his toxic associates.

    Restoring a dysfunctional civility that failed the vast majority of Americans for decades is not a viable solution.

  7. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/19/2018 - 08:51 pm.

    The hope of getting through the next three years

    I agree that the Times did a service in publishing these letters. They do help explain how people can rationalize voting for Trump as they did. I come back to the puzzle of how Jesse Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota. A critical mass of people were disenchanted with the conventional (and boring) give and take, up and down, Democrat versus Republican narrative. They wanted to shake things up. They did. So did these trump supporters. Now what? What did they would happen?

    Unsurprisingly, a lot of these letters clutched at the still unproven benefits of the Tax Bill as their rationale. I didn’t see anything in the letters about the danger of Trump starting WWIII. Apparently, these are some folks who either are too young to remember the Cuban Missile crisis or they have forgotten what it was like to look into the abyss. Anyway, if it does come to that, nobody’s going to be around asking for a Congressional investigation of the orange one’s taunting the leader of North Korea.

    I gave up trying to reason with Trump supporters over a year ago. Many, if not all, of these people, as Ray Schoch said, are delusional. I include among these people some very close relatives. They are at least ignorant and at best badly informed notwithstanding their credentials. “Delusional” is as polite and appropriate a word that can apply. But as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In a democracy, their choices mean the majority of us must eat their pudding for the next three years in the hope they will come to realize their choice was so,so wrong. Assuming that the democracy that enabled their poor choice survives.

  8. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/25/2018 - 12:47 pm.

    The importance of Truth(!) to Trump voters.

    We are not unaware of Trump’s fast and loose relationship with the truth; we’re all wary and alert for backsliding.

    But all truth (or lies) are not equal. Trump’s mendacity is focused on maintaining his ego; not much danger for the American citizen in them.

    Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, treated top secret intelligence with less care than Coke keeps its recipe, and then lied and lied again to cover her fecklessness. Comey said that she had endangered national security, and she had done so on many other occasions.

    There are liars, and then there are Liars.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/25/2018 - 11:01 pm.


      “Comey said that she had endangered national security, and she had done so on many other occasions.”

      Are you talking about James Comey, former Director of the FBI?

      Can’t be that Comey, there must be another Comey. James Comey, formerly of the FBI, I have learned from FOX, is a Senior member of the deep state and has plotted with his fellow travelers to stop Trump and maintain status quo politicans at all costs. Status quo politicians like Hillary Clinton.

      The FOX breaking news on the deep state and FBI secret societies is complete hogwash as illustrated by Mr. Senker above. If we actually look at the time of Comey’s statements on Clinton, there were complaints from the Clinton camp that the mission given to the FBI was to decide to charge or not charge Clinton on her email server. He elected not to charge and rather than just say:

      “Our investigation shows we do not have sufficient evidence to charge Ms. Clinton.”

      Instead he elected to make the statement described by Mr. Senker above. Combine this statement with the email investigation reopening 2 weeks before the election and it is pretty easy to see the impetus for the 12,000 vote swing in MI, PA and WI that got Trump elected.

      The FBI got Trump elected because they did their job to the best of their ability. Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, they are still doing their job to the best of their ability and this will lead to Mr. Trump’s undoing.

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