BRENDA LOOPER: Part and partisan

Seeking to divide

Posted: February 7, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

It's hard to explain just how sick I am of the rabid partisanship we've been seeing lately. It would be much easier to talk about the cold from hell that I've been dealing with (though it might not pass the breakfast test). And that's even taking into account all the pauses to catch my breath (don't ya love it when a cold settles in your lungs?).

The latest annoyance (as of this writing) in this horrible movement is the release of the Republican memo on the Russia investigation, but not that of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, and the president's insistence that it "totally vindicates" him and debunks the reasoning for the investigation. Now, though, four Republicans on the committee are distancing themselves from him on the memo, calling on the president not to interfere with Robert Mueller's investigation or use the memo as a basis for firings, and telling him he is not yet cleared.

I hope they're prepared to be called RINOs and worse. Lord help anyone who has a different opinion or wise counsel.

And yep, I fully expect to be called a danged liberal (and much worse). But, seriously, I'd prefer that neither memo be released, especially as the investigation is ongoing ... you know, national security and all that. Besides, the best course is to let the investigation continue to completion without constantly running it down (just makes you look guilty). Still, if you release one side and not the other (which as I write this is now up to the president), you risk further dividing people along party lines. That makes the idea of working together for the greater good (which is what our policymakers should be doing) nothing but a far-off dream.

But it appears that division is the aim. Otherwise, why call Democrats' behavior at the State of the Union address treasonous (uh, no, that's not what treason is, people) while ignoring similar behavior from Republicans during Democratic presidents' addresses?

Let's be honest here. There's ample bad behavior on both sides, and it's only getting worse.

The Pew Research Center has been tracking divisions on opinion on a range of issues--including national security, immigration, race and environmental protection--since 1994, and in its latest report in October, it found that partisan gaps had grown even more from the record levels during Barack Obama's presidency. Across 10 measures used in seven of the surveys since 1994, the divide increased from 15 percentage points to 36.

"Two decades ago," Pew wrote, "the average partisan differences on these items were only somewhat wider than differences by religious attendance or educational attainment, and about as wide as the differences between blacks and whites (14 points, on average). Today, the party divide is much wider than any of these demographic differences."

Still, the gap widened on some of the demographic differences, by double or nearly so in a couple of cases (religious attendance and age), even though the gap wasn't all that wide to begin with. Pew concluded, "To some extent, the growing gaps within these demographic groups reflect the increasing degree to which these demographics are associated with partisanship."

Oh, joy.

While feelings about the opposing party haven't changed much in recent years, Pew reported that they have changed dramatically from the 1990s. In 1994, less than 20 percent in either party viewed the opposition very unfavorably (very, because there was no coding for "loathe"). Now, 44 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners view the GOP as very unfavorable, while 45 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners had a very dim opinion on Democrats.

And it's not just political issues that divide them: The majority of Republicans prefer communities with larger houses further apart where schools and shopping aren't close. Democrats, on the other hand, prefer communities with smaller, closer-together homes with schools and shopping in walking distance.

I'm pretty sure neither of them want to be too close to the other guys. They're icky, ya know.

Healthy partisanship, along with give and take for the greater good, is important to democracy. However, what we have now is far from healthy.

When the way you view facts such as scientific data or raw video is determined by your partisanship, we have a problem. Sure, the facts may change when more data is uncovered (one very good reason not to interfere in an investigation or release information before you have a solid case), but rather than run down any evolution of science because of what your party tells you, why not look at the evidence? You might find that those scientists know what they're talking about ... definitely more than some guy who doesn't know the difference between weather and climate. And that uncut video you try to ignore because it doesn't square with your partisan beliefs? C'mon, it's what happened and what was said, and all the cherrypicking in the world won't change that.

But sure, if that's what you want to believe, don't let truth get in the way of a hyperpartisan fit. Facts (and the concept of getting along) are clearly overrated.

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Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at blooper@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 02/07/2018