Getting along in a polarized world

Published on Winchester Sun, October 10, 2019

It seems all the world is in a tizzy this week over the fact that a popular television personality — known for her liberal politics and for the fact that she is a lesbian — turns out to be a close friend of a former Republican president, a man who made religious conservatism his trademark issue.

Yes, you read that right — Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush are pals.

Maybe I’m mistaken, but I believe there was a time, not all that long ago, when such a friendship would not have caused a moment’s thought. But these days, it seems, we’re drawing battle lines and daring anyone to cross them.

Can we learn to live with each other at a time when political, religious and lifestyle views and practices seem to be so polarizing?

I know some conservative people who think that all (or most) liberals are evil people, intent on destroying America as we know it. I know some liberals who believe that all (or most) conservatives are evil people, intent on destroying America as we know it.

If you really believe those people “on the other side” have evil intentions, it’s understandable you might hate them.

Is it possible that all of us — the liberals, conservatives, moderates and everyone else who is politically engaged and who hold strong opinions — are falling into a trap set by people who would like nothing better than to see this country torn asunder?

Because that’s exactly what’s happening to us. We are being ripped apart at the seams. It’s bad enough that we are squabbling among ourselves online, but now we’re not even speaking to each other, at least not civilly.

As a youth, I read in history books that during the civil war, “neighbor rose up against neighbor, and brother fought against brother.” At the time, I found it nearly impossible to imagine how such a situation could have arisen in this land of freedom and plenty.

I no longer wonder. I see it play out every day on television, on social media, in our workplaces, and in our towns. It’s terrifying and deeply saddening.

I have this crazy notion that we are not truly as divided as we seem to be. That the American Dream is still alive. That hard work, playing by the rules, pursuing life, liberty, and happiness and watching our children prosper beyond our own success is still an attainable goal for most American families.

And as a nation, we have the capacity to ensure that dream is attainable by every American — regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, geographic location or any other limiting factor.

Most importantly, I believe the vast majority of us still share these common values and goals for ourselves and our progeny.

In short, I still believe nearly all of us want what’s best for America.

So why do we bear such venomous attitudes toward our fellow Americans?

It’s now well documented that foreign interests have been meddling in our electoral process, mostly (so far) limited to using social media to spread false information. Most on the left assume the Russians favor the Republicans. That may have been true for the 2016 election, but I think their real agenda is to sow confusion and mistrust among us. To cause us to doubt our most sacred institutions of government and media. To divide communities and families. To turn brother against brother.

So what do we have then? We have millions of Americans of all political stripes engaged in a mercenary war. We’re fighting each other, spurred on by foreign interests who truly do want to see our institutions destroyed. And we’re the unwitting pawns.

What’s the answer? I believe things will change when we wake up and realize that politics is not a blood sport. It should not be played to win at all costs. Politics, it has been said, is the art of compromise. It seems we have made it the art of burning down the house.

We should seek truth above all else. Only an informed electorate can govern a nation. Don’t live in an echo chamber, limiting your news and views to those that you already agree with.

Be willing to look for ideas and opinions that contradict your own beliefs and to consider you may be wrong.

And take a page from the playbook of Ellen and George.

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at or follow him on Twitter @PeteKoutoulas.

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