Yes, we are as divided as we think we are
Diane Hessan’s recent op-ed (“Are we as divided as we think we are?” Opinion, Nov. 16) recounts that the answers given by 400 voters to a true-or-false quiz on current issues were remarkably consistent from Trump and Clinton supporters alike. Hessan concluded, “In reality, we agree on more than you think.”
I don’t buy it. Most of the statements were tailored to the lowest common denominator. Regardless of party affiliation, it’s hard to disagree with the statement that “money has too much influence on our politics,” that “gerrymandering is unfair,” that “both . . . parties are a mess,” that “Paul Manafort had shady dealings with the Russians,” and that automatic weapons should face “increased regulation.”
Missing were statements about the most inflammatory wedge issues of the 2016 campaign — on immigration, the Affordable Care Act, tax reform, and the Second Amendment itself (an outright assault weapon ban, not the “increased regulation” compromise). If Hessan were to administer a follow-up quiz, I believe that, unfortunately, the great divide would reappear.
A few more statements for next True or False test
Diane Hessan tossed out some pretty easy lobs in her True or False quiz, which purported to show that liberal and conservative voters are not so far apart after all. Even staunch Trump supporters would probably feel safe answering “Gerrymandering is unfair” as being true. Why not ask some deeper True or False questions to measure the voter divide in this country? May I suggest the following:
1. Global warming is a hoax.
2. There are some good people on the side of neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
3. The president was justified in installing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court with minimal review after the Republican Party obstructed, for 10 months, a moderate and perfectly acceptable candidate nominated by Barack Obama.
4. All these accusations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior are a just a “witch hunt.”
5. Cabinet positions and other high-level political appointments should be granted to people with little or no experience.
There are many more such litmus tests that would get closer to the truth.
In any klatch of left and right, Trump is the elephant in the room
Diane Hessan suggests that, based on her polling of a mixed group of 400 Republicans and Democrats, there is much we all can agree upon. Eighty percent of the group answers the same way on such questions as whether the Russians tried to interfere in our elections and whether both the Republican and Democratic parties are a mess. Her survey confirms what no reasonable person disputes: There is common ground on most issues.
But before a civilized debate can begin, it must be stipulated that Donald Trump is antithetical to our country’s foundational principles. If 80 percent of us can agree that Trump lacks basic understanding of the role the Constitution established for a US president, that he is divisive domestically and dangerous internationally, and that therefore he and his tweets should be ignored, then we can talk respectfully about gun control and money in politics and other important issues. I would like to think that, by now, every one of Hessan’s 400, from the left and the right, would agree that Trump is an obstacle too high to get over.
Chasm between policy and politics didn’t start with Trump’s rise
There is a logical fallacy in Diane Hessan’s “Are we as divided as we think we are?” The bipartisan agreement she documents on policy topics has not translated into government action precisely because the respondents elected people to Congress who feel more responsibility to their financial backers than they do to their constituents. And yet these 400 people whom Hessan polls continue to vote against their expressed belief in the issues cited, such as gerrymandering and responsible gun control, by electing representatives who do not “represent” their will.
Nor is this the result of the Trump election. Most of those in Congress have been there for more than two years. So the question becomes: Why is this disconnect between policy and politics happening? Are people voting on one so-called make-or-break issue — for example, abortion?
I suspect that a much larger sample of Americans would yield a much less homogeneous response to Hessan’s questions, and that more pointed questions about politics, and about policy, would lead to more useful answers regarding this disconnect. Only when we understand the real issues underlying politics in 21st-century America can we find a way to work together to make our country great again.