Are We Too Divided?

by Sandy Renshaw on December 31, 2007

I was taken aback by the results of a political survey published (12/28/2007) and copyrighted by KCCI.com in Des Moines. The poll is still up but the details are no longer available on-line. In this survey Iowa “voters” were restricted to 500 Democrats and 500 Republicans only, but that is another issue.

The startling point of the survey is that there was no common ground between the Democratic and Republican respondents listing their 3 most important issues. How can that be? We all live in Iowa. I’d like to talk about the concept of divided.

bridges.jpg

I don’t remember a time when this nation was so divided. I live in Des Moines and work in Grinnell and have an apartment there so I see an interesting mix of cultures. The first time I went to Grinnell I thought I was on another planet. Stay with me and I will get to the divided part.Grinnell is a very small town (9,000) so I also walk downtown sometimes to the movies or coffee house, and in the summer to the Thursday Night Concert in the Park. Between Monday morning and Friday afternoon the only time I get in my car is to go to the Community Meal at the local elementary school. Grinnell is a fun place in a lot of ways — a real throwback to the 1950s.

One of the most interesting aspects of small town living is that I know people from all parts of society — rich-poor, educated-uneducated, old-young, healthy-handicapped, lawyers-people who collect cans for the nickels, business owners-paper carriers and I see them all within a single week and know them by name. Living in Des Moines for many years I didn’t realize how isolated I had become from a lot of the society until I spent time in Grinnell. It is time-warp back to another era.

In that sense (but not in others) Grinnell feels more like 1950 when I knew my neighbors, when I went to high school with a banker’s daughter and with a boy who lived in a downtown tenement and whose teeth were rotting in his mouth, where my tennis doubles partner was the cantor’s son, where more than 80% of my classmates were white but 15% were African-American, where one of my schoolmates went on to a jazz career in Paris, another to head a major corporation, another to fight Muhammad Ali, and others to just disappear. In the 1950s my friends were rich and poor, black and white, from professional, clerical, and labor families, college-bound and not, and where some of my friends worked after school by necessity and some didn’t. We were diverse but we didn’t know it. We thought we were Americans.

I think that we may have lost that sense of one America where we might think first of unity rather than a narrower group identity. As a nation I think we have lost track of each other. Personally I think we know too narrow a cross section of our country. We have lost the ability to come together and do the uncomfortable — to discuss our points of difference and to find the common ground to rebuild the nation. It is so much easier to seek shelter in catchy phrases, in half ideas, in emotional response, or in a point of view that we feel cannot be challenged.

Are you too isolated? Could your view be broadened?

  • Do you know anyone who has lost their home to foreclosure?
  • When is the last time you had dinner with a CEO of anything?
  • If you are a devout Protestant when is the last time you had a Catholic in your home (or vice-versa)?
  • Do you know anyone who slept under a bridge by necessity?
  • Do you know anyone with a house of greater than 4000 square feet?
  • Do you know anyone without medical insurance?
  • Do you know an executive of an insurance company?
  • If you are white, when is the last time you had an African-American in your home? (or vice-versa)
  • If you live in a suburb, when is the last time you had a person from a family making less than $50,000 in your home?
  • If you live in Des Moines, when is the last time you did anything with a person making more than $500,000 a year?
  • When is the last time you discussed abortion with someone you loved who disagreed with you?
  • Can you discuss your moral values with strangers and listen to theirs?

It is time to reunify the U.S. Good luck.

jim.jpg Guest Writer: James G. Lindberg (Jim) is the the Purple Wren‘s sweetie and is a visiting chemistry professor at Grinnell College and retired from Drake University.

[tags] Iowa, Des Moines, Des Moines News[/tags]

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandy Renshaw December 31, 2007 at 3:43 pm

Jim,

Welcome to blogging!

I took a look at this poll. It had to be remarkable to inspire you to write on AroundDesMoines.

What first caught my eye was 27% of Democratic voters are concerned about ‘Health Care Costs’ and only 2% of Republican voters. That must mean Republicans all have affordable health coverage.

And ‘Troops out of Iraq’ was listed as a top issue by 29% of Democratic voters and only 3% of Republican voters. My question is: what exactly is a “moral issue.” The war tops my list.

That’s just my immediate reaction – this raises a lot of questions in my mind, the most compelling to me is, “Are we really this divided?”

It’s time to find our similarities.

Thanks for sharing this poll.

Sandy

M.R. Field December 31, 2007 at 7:11 pm

There is a difference between being divided and having different priorities. When the priorities conflict and there is no compromise, then there is division. People of different backgrounds sharing the same space do not automatically share the same priorities. The migrant worker may be saving as much money as possible to survive over the months of no work, while the business person may have so much money that he needs to build a mansion, although they both may eat at the local diner. Unless they desire the same land for different housing density, there is unlikely to be division because they are not going after the same limited resources.

I knew a person who every year would tire of hearing me complain about sidewalks that had not been shoveled. He would tell me to move to Florida. I would respond that I don’t like the heat. There is air conditioning, he said. Air conditioning doesn’t help on long walks, I would say. Get a car, is what he would say. If I wanted a car, I’d just buy one here, is what I responded. The fact that I should expect safe sidewalks in all seasons and be able to enjoy the northern climates was not the other person’s concern. Obviously the solution was just to get out of the north and buy a car, no more problems with snow, no more problems with walking, no more listening to me complain. The fact that I would be absolutely miserable was unimportant. This mentality of “it’s not my concern” is one I have encountered increasingly frequently, including from elected officials. That is not division; that is alienation.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: