Todd Gitlin, Opinion contributor
Published 7: 00 a.m. ET Dec. 17, 2019 | Updated 8: 25 a.m. ET Dec. 17, 2019
National Security: Democrats are playing baseball and Republicans are playing fantasy football. From climate to Christmas to Ukraine, you can’t compromise with a fantasy.
In 1861, no common ground existed between Americans who thought slaves were happy and those who thought they should be freed.
In 1941, no common ground existed between those who thought Nazi Germany was benign and those who thought it had to be defeated at war.
What thwarts our democracy now is not divisiveness but the political power of a bloc composed of plutocratic wealth and theocratic dogma, cemented by propaganda. Intelligent divisiveness, on the other hand, might save us.
It is not disagreement that explains why we are in the throes of a climate emergency that worsens by the day. The problem is that one side of the political divide honors the science of physical reality while the other side obfuscates, deceives the public and promotes public ignorance.
National Security: GOP doesn’t accept facts
This is a big country, chock full of divergent interests — and necessarily so. Values and emphases diverge. Democracy entails conflict, which can be instructive when the ground rules are clear. What paralyzes us is not a difference in values but a divergence over the rules for ascertaining truth. One party refuses to recognize the essentials of reality.
If all sides in the debate could start by agreeing on the scientific consensus about the nature, causes and pace of convulsive global warming, they might then sensibly dispute how to go about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Common ground for rational dispute might be found between those favoring Policies A and B. But no common ground can be found between those who know that the elements of climate science are settled and those who wrongly believe they are not.
There is no common ground between those who believe that 2+2=4 and those who believe that 2+2=5. Nor need it be sought. No common ground is needed between those who know that convulsive climate change produces extreme weather, and those who think that a cold day proves the planet cannot be warming. The only question worth debating is: How do we decarbonize an economy that hastens us pell-mell toward disaster?
Disagreement is fine, even fun; that’s why we love competitive sports. The problem is not that we disagree, but that one side denies reality. One team plays baseball and the other plays fantasy football. With fantasy there can be no compromise. The underlying problem is that the game has been rigged because the fossil fuel industry captured the Republican Party, which now controls the White House and the Senate. For decades, these interests funded disinformation that prevented the public from coming to grips with the nature of the problem, let alone address it.
National Security: False claims are the real problem
Is divisiveness the reason why democracy’s bedrock right to vote is impaired? No. The problem is that the party that controls the Senate proclaims, against the evidence, that “voter fraud” is a substantial problem. For self-protective reasons they obscure the truth — that increasingly, state and local laws limit the franchise and suppress the vote in order to permit a political minority to stay in power. All House Republicans but one voted this month against bolstering the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Is there a “war on Christmas,” to cite another right-wing staple? No. No sane policy can be premised on the existence of a nonexistent war.
Trump impeachment: Pelosi reclaims the Constitution for liberals and today’s America
No common ground is possible between President Donald Trump’s false claim that Ukraine has the Democratic National Committee server that was hacked in 2016 (the FBI “gave the server to CrowdStrike,” a Ukrainian security company, he says) and the truth: that the server remains in Washington, that the company in question is American, not Ukrainian, and that it conducts security work for the National Republican Congressional Committee as well as the DNC.
“Reaching across the aisle” is of no avail when crocodiles snap their jaws on the other side.
Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology, is chair of the Ph.D. program in communications at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter: @toddgitlin
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