American culture wars rage on

    Why is the nation so divided? It’s a great question, but I have yet to hear a good answer. Usually the response acknowledges the different cultural assumptions of various parts of our society, but simply leaves it at that. Although culture wars are raging across the map, people are often too caught up in protesting abortion or fighting for gay marriage to sit back, look at the entire conflict and wonder why it’s gotten so vicious.

    Nothing illustrates this better than Jon Stewart’s recent appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire.” Stewart used his appearance on the show to confront the partisan bickering that is stifling any thoughtful, legitimate debate in this country. However, by the end of the taping he was calling his right-winger nemesis Tucker Carlson a “dick.” Nice conclusion to his message of engaging in civic discussion. The direction of the conversation cannot be blamed on just Stewart; Carlson was obviously defensive and made his fair share of cheap shots in an effort to cover up his discomfort. Yet, by the end of the conversation, there was no peace or tolerance between the two, and the encounter disintegrated into name-calling. Whether or not you agree that the name-calling was deserved is beside the point. Anyone watching this show should have felt inclined to weep, for there was the problem with our entire political environment. Americans today are totally incapable of civil political conversation about important issues; we cannot tolerate the other side nor their personality, and so we inevitably declare war on one another and smear those who disagree.

    Thus we have the culture wars. We cannot help but escalate the level of animosity, as the factions in the country are not willing to speak to each other — instead they are speaking past each other and engaging in an effort to discredit and demonize the other side. Right-wingers are considered by many liberals as backward, ignorant and bigoted. Liberals on the coasts are considered by those same people as un-American and lazy. Neither side acknowledges that the political opinions of the “other” are legitimate. It’s easy to forget that political beliefs are the result of a lifetime’s worth of experiences, reflecting values that are satisfying to those who prescribe to them. If we were all more open-minded, we might all learn something from one another, or at least not viciously hate each other.

    All this was heavy on my mind while I enjoyed about two hours of Bill Maher’s excellent comedy on campus a few weeks ago. Maher is hilarious, of course, and there is no need to agree with him to enjoy his talent.

    However, there is a central contradiction in his career. It would definitely seem to me that Maher cares about politics; he cares about who wins the election and the direction the country takes. He is not doing all of this just to be funny, and there are lots of other things he could joke about. Therefore, he is going to be completely ineffectual in bringing about any of the change he hopes for, because he only preaches to the converted while brazenly insulting the other side. In the course of his performance, religion was characterized as a neurological disorder, Texans were forbidden to be president and Midwesterners were condemned several times over. So I am sure that any right-leaning Texans in the crowd would have given him the finger and left, and would not be very open to the many truths underlying Maher’s frustration.

    Why can’t we have a culture conversation? Yeah, it sounds corny, but isn’t it sad that such a request seems prosperous? In our multicultural, multiethnic society, how pathetic is it that the real cultural differences we cannot stand are those between Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal? Why does one side have to “win” the culture wars? Can’t we co-exist and focus on the diseases that really threaten our society, as opposed to labeling everything on the other side as fatal to the American Dream?

    Neither side is totally right or wrong. Yet I hear the Midwest insulted and dismissed on a weekly basis by fellow students. Openness of mind is apparently too good to be extended to those wretched red states. And I am sure that the dialogue is no better back on the farm; as long as country stars keep punching out songs about Americans putting boots in peoples’ asses, I think we can pretty much kiss the political dialogue goodbye.

    When the carnage is over, and we’ve had enough of the destructive virulence of this absurd civil war, you might look across the battle lines and realize that you are, indeed, fighting your brother.

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