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AMEND CORNER: Looking across the political divide

I’ve been taking it rather easy in my political comments so far this year, but I think it’s time to stop doing that.

With all the stuff that’s happened in the last couple of weeks, I have to say something.

I’m pretty sure that anyone who has read or heard about this column is aware of my liberal political inclinations. In all honesty, though, while I’m certainly not a conservative, I don’t consider myself a liberal, either. Narrow-minded ideologues like to make lists of the principles and stances they believe the party should stand for so they can cram people into boxes labeled L and C, but people are too complex to be stuffed into boxes like that — and issues are too complicated to be sorted into those boxes. Sometimes there are issues that have nothing to do with political philosophy at all.

Consider the recent Women’s March protest against Donald Trump, which flooded Washington and spilled over into cities and towns all over the world, including a Park County version in conservative Cody, where around 500 marchers turned out. Conservative columnists naturally found plenty about the event to denounce, and many of them complained about some “indecent” slogans and some peculiar pink cat-shaped hats some women wore in response to acts Trump had boasted about that appeared during his campaign. At minimum, the acts Trump said he had committed constituted sexual harassment, but some, if not all, of them were quite clearly cases of sexual assault.

I’ve said before in this space that I’m not a fan of such marches, and anyway, I’m afraid marching is beyond my capabilities these days. I didn’t march in this one, but this is a march I think was quite justified. By the sheer size of the Washington march and the many similar marches around the country, the participants called attention to the fears many women and men have as the result of the election, as minorities have a right and even a duty to do.

Is my support for the march a liberal stance? I don’t think so. I would also expect many conservative women would be angry about a man in Trump’s position bragging about forcing intimate contact on a woman who happened to be on an elevator with him, and I would think their husbands might think the same way, whether they marched or not.

Of course, that was only one of many issues bringing the marchers together. Another was support for Planned Parenthood, which, to many conservatives, raises the issue of abortion. Conservatives have campaigned against abortion for decades, so that issue alone probably led many conservative women to vote for Trump and avoid the march.

But even the abortion issue does not divide neatly into liberal and conservative positions. I can remember, for example, when Wyoming had a Democratic governor who opposed abortion and a Republican U.S. Senator who supported abortion rights at the same time. A member of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote the most persuasive argument against abortion I have ever read, while the best defense of abortion rights I have read came from a conservative columnist. Obviously, there are differing opinions between the two sides of the political debate.

Traditionally, America’s political parties have been coalitions of people who generally agree with each other on how the government should be run, but who may disagree on specific issues. Over the last few decades, though, ideology has taken over the parties, so there is less room for dissent within the parties. That is one of many developments that have polarized this nation and that polarization is what threatens its future.

That’s why I reject the idea that everything is either a liberal or a conservative position, or a Republican or Democratic position. There will always be competition between the two sides, but such competition is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s good for the nation because it gives us choices.

But the division is not the simple black-and-white division that it appears to be. People shift back and forth across it all the time as they participate in our nation’s governance. That’s why we and the leaders we elect need to stop looking and talking over the partisan barrier. Instead, both sides should look through the barrier at the real people on the other side and talk to them. Those people over there might just have an idea that, when added to the proposals on this side, might successfully resolve the issue in a way that’s good for everyone.

That’s the way to keep our already great nation as great as it can be for everyone. Unfortunately, I’m not confident that it will happen, and I don’t know where it will lead us.

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