Americans have taken sides again — this time over who’s to blame for a federal shutdown that has entered its third week with no end in sight.
President Donald Trump blames congressional Democrats for failing to pass a budget bill that includes $5 billion for the border wall he promised voters during his campaign.
Democrats blame Trump for using the shutdown as political weapon, at the expense of taxpayers and furloughed federal workers, to get a waste-of-money wall he boasted Mexico would pay for anyway.
Once again, people on both sides present this political dispute as false dilemma. You’re either with us or against us, friend or foe, good or evil, right or wrong. Disagree or express an opinion counter to either tribe’s dogma and get ready to be berated, ridiculed or ostracized.
In an ideal world, such debate would be healthy. Both sides would accept that people have differences of opinion, listen to each other with open minds and use reason and logic to reach a compromise everyone can live with, one that actually might do some good.
Anybody remember the last time that happened in Washington? Or on your favorite prime-time TV commentary program? Or on your Facebook page?
What a sad and tiresome state of affairs, especially in a nation so many around the world still look to for leadership when it comes to freedom and democracy.
I scrolled through some of the political vitriol and recrimination on my cellphone a few days ago when I encountered this promising headline: "How can we respond to rampant polarization? Look to Catholic social teaching."
The story, published Dec. 31 by the Catholic News Service, appears on the website "America: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture." In it, people who have studied the problem and worked on solutions offer some poignant observations. They discuss the polarization that affects not only the nation but the church, which faces division between Catholic Republicans and Democrats over whether Pope Francis is too liberal.
Here are a few statements in the story that stand out to me:
• Americans’ divisiveness is rooted in "fear, cynicism and anger," says John Carr, director of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. And that not only leads to alienation but feeds tribal identities in politics where people define themselves by who or what they are against rather than what they might do together.
• Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, says the church should guard against letting the small percentage of people on the left and the right "drive the bus."
"The saddest thing is when you encounter the person who is so convinced of their righteousness that they’ve lost all sense of charity," he said. "Those of us in the moderate middle either way have to be willing to be bold and say exactly what the church’s teaching is and not allow the extremes to say who we are."
• "The danger in our current political climate is that the people of the United States will come to accept the current political division, nihilism, hypocrisy and anger in our culture as normal," says Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego.
I don’t know about you, but I can relate to what they’re saying. I can also relate to a solution the story says Pope Francis has suggested: Come to see perceived enemies as real people, deserving of respect and dignity.
You don’t have to be religious to understand the wisdom in such a suggestion. You just have to be willing to put into practice something that is easier said than done.
Keith Magill is the executive editor at the The Courier in Houma (La.) and Daily Comet in Thibodaux (La.). He can be reached at 985-857-2201 or email@example.com.