I’m sure there will be many who will have to respond to Richard Fein’s latest column, “Polarized America: We Are All Part of the Problem.” My need stems not from my disagreement with the Pew Research Center survey of polarization that Mr. Fein cites, but rather from my deep concern over his expression of the false equivalence of responsibility of left and right, of Democrats and a Republican Party that fell flat for Trump and his supporters. More than 300 of those seeking election on November 8 are supporters of Trump’s big lie that he won the election.
The author goes on to explore five areas that almost all refer to false assumptions about progressives and/or even more questionable assumptions about those who support Trump. I’ll start where he started – what he “saw, heard or felt” – with abortion. He posits that Democrats believe that “the fact that an opinion is based on a religious belief” makes it “less legitimate”.
In reality, believing that abortion is murder and basing oneself on the infallibility of the Bible, prevents any dialogue or compromise. He goes on to mention that “evangelical churches and their adherents have come under attack for supporting Trump.” There are countless reasons to oppose Trump and those who continue to support him, especially those who believe his countless lies, must be prepared to hear how he betrayed his country. It’s long overdue to worry that “tackling a person’s conservative understanding of their faith, if it made someone support Trump, will lead to “a fertile recruiting ground for Trumpism”. For nearly 80% of evangelicals this ship sailed in 2016 and remains very far at sea…
As for Mr. Fein’s comments about the crisis on our border, both sides deserve great responsibility for the huge disasters that continue to unfold there. There were many problems with Obama’s two immigration policies, but neither of them caused human rights abuses, family separations and caged children.
It is his argument about racism that is most troubling. He seems to believe that owning his white privilege requires self-condemnation as well as an inability to be recognized for having worked hard. It completely misses the key element of what defines systemic racism. These are not individuals who may or may not have learned the real story – the accomplishments and the horrific mistakes – of their community and our nation. It’s about acknowledging that there isn’t even a playground for black people, not blaming white people, but rather the need to first affirm inequality and then work to change the society so that whiteness does not come with privileges that other races cannot enjoy.
As for progressives who view the founding documents as illegitimate, again, Mr. Fein is wrong in his assumptions. The documents, except that blacks are counted as 3/5 of a person and voting is restricted to white males, Christians, and landowners, contain a lot of estimables. We are not of the view that the fact that many Founding Fathers owned slaves invalidates the noble qualities of the documents, but rather the failure of our system of government to remedy the resulting deficiencies, such as the Electoral College and the absurdity of giving Wyoming the same number of senatorial votes as California. That Trump can stack the Supreme Court with extreme conservatives is deeply troubling and will affect our nation for decades to come, so it is also a feature that needs to be changed.
Finally, I have to agree with Mr. Fein when he expresses his concern about the condescension of some liberals/progressives based on cultural tastes such as “love of opera and analysis of poems”. Nobody should ever feel less grounded in anything, so I’d be more likely to accept his criticism if it wasn’t liberals, but anyone who is condescending, which I consider to be all too human and a quality on which we must all work.
In the end, Mr. Fein, in trying to show how we can be less polarized, has instead highlighted the reasons for polarization that won’t be easily addressed, let alone filled in until assumptions like his are made. not questioned. I would also highly recommend the new documentary, “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America,” which directly addresses many of his mistaken assumptions about racism.
One last note. Braver Angels (https://braverangels.org) is a singular effort to bridge the big gap that Mr. Fein is trying to bridge. A year ago, I participated in a weekend event that allowed me to form a meaningful, mutually respectful, and valuable friendship with a new “red-leaning” friend. That he does not adopt the positions put forward by Mr. Fein has allowed our friendship to flourish despite our differences.
Tom Weiner retired after 40 years at Smith College Campus School. He is a member of the anti-racism group Bridge4Unity and a group demanding reparations in Northampton.