Before heading abroad this past spring, I had an extended winter break waiting for my semester to begin. And with all due respect to my parents, who are wonderful, loving and — dare I say — fun people, it was interminable. I was essentially left to my own devices, and try as I might, The New York Times and Nintendo Wii don't make a full day. As a result, I ended up paying attention to things I normally wouldn't have back here on campus. The thing that stuck with me the most was the horrifying realization of just how polarized our political climate has become.
My parents are both Republicans, and I don't think I'd be betraying their trust to say they've pretty much stayed on the party line come November each year, or at least during the 21 years I've been around. They are informed and rational people. They are also socially conscious. There have been countless occasions throughout my life when they reprimanded not only my sister and me, but also my friends, for not recycling or for leaving the lights on when not in the room. And so, I was astonished when I sat down over break to help them put together their Netflix queue. As they were picking out movies, my parents stumbled across one with a title that intrigued them. "JC, what's 'An Inconvenient Truth' about?"
"That's Al Gore's movie about climate change," I replied.
My parents looked at each other and remarked, "Well, we won't be watching that." It was then, watching two very reasonable people who both respect the environment, that I first really noticed how even important, genuinely non-political issues such as climate change have become victims of America's political polarization.
This theme remained reoccurring as I paid attention to the current events all of these months later. Elected politicians laugh off serious ideas and problems. Candidates elicit cheap applause by making snarky comments about "the other side." Our Great Nation's progress has been completely derailed by an inability to respect and listen to each other. We don't mind that our news media has become dominated by bitter ideologues, such as Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann. Stephen Colbert, a comedian whose shtick is so close to real life that it's often no longer funny, is running a fake presidential campaign that is drawing more support than genuine candidates with real ideas. People actually pay money to read and listen to the glorified hate speech of Ann Coulter. Are we serious? Is this what it's all come down to in our discourse?
The reason I feel so compelled to write this is not to complain. Instead, I hope that we take stock of where we are as a society. It is our turn to step out of our parents' shadows. Our generation will be responsible for dealing with huge problems left over from their inability to get along: health care reform, social security reform, the fiscal legacy of the war on terror, climate change, global poverty and disease. It is up to us to come together and work to solve these problems. If we wait too long, we'll be rendered ineffective — Montagues and Capulets, left looking at the ruins of our discord while vowing never to make the same mistakes. But given the choice, why say "never again" when we can instead simply say "never"