Questioning intolerance and the current political climate

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell
We are living in troubled times. This is a phrase repeated by nearly every generation. However, the temper of our times, especially within the realm of politics, seems to have greatly magnified the resonance of this phrase.
In the past when opposing parties disagreed there was usually someone or some group in the middle willing to seek compromise or to broker the peace in order to reasonably satisfy both parties. This is no longer the case. Today if you are in Congress you must tow your party’s line. If for some reason you choose to work with the opposing party on any issue, whether it is banking reform, trade agreements, or healthcare, you will be targeted in the next election cycle. Walk in lock-step and follow the party’s position or you will be ostracized. In the end this intolerant thinking, whether it is exercised by Democrats or Republicans, is a recipe for disaster for our nation.
Grid-locking the legislature and the give and take function of governmental decision making creates an outraged public who are left with little faith in elected officials. We end up with our Congressional representatives shouting down and disrespecting the person and office of the President at the State of the Union speech. We get Capitol Hill demonstrators, such as some tea-party members, who greet African American and gay legislators with racial and homophobic slurs. Worse yet, we have extremists threatening violence against US Senators and Representatives who vote in favor of healthcare reform. The idea of political tolerance is now a totally foreign concept.
This combative stance is also a part of state and local politics. Politicians and advocacy groups have reached new lows where attack ads are daily features in newspapers and on television news. Nightly the media covers campaigns in such a way as to allow candidates and politicians to routinely bad mouth each other, throwing around incendiary and biased accusations, and in general slandering each other with apparent impunity. This type of reporting does little more than divide the community and create unnecessary strife. Candidates who were once considered merely ideological adversaries are now viewed as embittered foes with the rhetoric reaching an ever more fevered pitch as elections near.
Unfortunately, political discussions have become heated disputes where friends disagree, argue their points, and become so emotionally involved that in the end they rarely speak. We are indeed living in grim times. Unlike the past, people now get angry when their beliefs are challenged. No longer is it safe to engage in political discourse like our forefathers did when they originally came to agreement on the US Constitution. Today it is a dicey endeavor to even bring up the latest “hot button” issue at the neighborhood barbeque. To do so is to risk offense for the perceived effrontery of presenting an alternative opinion.
The big question is what has brought us as a people and a nation to this unfortunate impasse where opposing views are not only unwelcome but considered downright offensive? Is it a result of the image we are presented with by watching a Congress where you are tar-and-feathered if you cross party lines on a vote? Is it the demigods of talk radio and 24-hour “news” programs spewing their biased messages of hate and misinformation to sway our beliefs? Is it our local politicians and advocacy groups with their attack ads spinning webs of half-truths and lies until the public no longer knows who to believe? Is it the bloggers who present every rumor or conspiracy theory as fact creating universal distrust? Or is it a little bit of all of us, who have become suspicious and less tolerant of those who do not think or believe the way we do? What do you think?
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a freelance writer and educator. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Dr. Maxwell at


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