I'd rather be in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area on the Canadian/U.S. border on a cold, rainy day than in California writing this column, discussing politics and enduring California's boring weather. The Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area is amply supplied with mosquitoes and bogs, requires carrying 80- to 100-pound loads on uphill portages, and is guaranteed to be wet and cold almost all the time. My experience with the Boundary Waters wilderness dates back 50 years this summer, and I can honestly say that the experience easily rates in difficulty with the hardest military training I ever experienced. That includes winter warfare training in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with Airborne Infantry and actual temperatures of 32 degrees below zero, living in snow caves. It could have been worse, as some units are forced to train at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, where temperatures of 50 degrees below zero are not uncommon.
I say this because some are under the misguided impression that being involved in politics implies that one enjoys it. Wrong answer: detesting it is a more accurate description. It shouldn't be that way, at least not if you're under the impression that what is taught in high school civics even remotely resembles the American political process.
Read any column on the opinion page of any newspaper and more than half of the time, medication to relieve tension or a bar of soap to wash out your mouth are immediately required.
The situation is so bad in San Luis Obispo County that a civility code for public officials is being proposed, all being urged to take the oath, sign the pledge etc. You know, like taking "The Pledge" on Sunday during Prohibition and hoping you don't meet anyone you know at the speakeasy next Friday. Human nature being what it is, such naiveté is charming but doomed from the outset. If an adult elected official hasn't figured out how to be civil by the time they run for office, don't expect them to change spots once they're given the victory laurel of public office.
As a conservative Republican, I'm supposed to be a "defender of the faith," (political faith not theocratic) and a stalwart defender of official standard-bearers. It's hard to do, and I often don't, as I hold myself answerable and ultimately accountable to a higher power than any earthly authority. That earns one the wrath of true believers, and my dilemma is not limited to one political party. Democrat/progressives have their own tales of woe with wanderers from the "true faith," who dare to make their dissent public.
The coarsening of American politics is taking a toll from which recovery is less likely and disunity almost certain to deepen. I fault many factors for this phenomena: the entertainment industry, which panders to the most coarse and dark aspects of human nature; the tech industry for promotion of "self" over "selflessness"; and most importantly, the media, especially the printed media that has abandoned all pretext of independence and upholding its constitutional duty to be adversarial toward all political power, not just those disfavored.
The national press, right down to the local press, has taken on the mantle of advocacy journalism, primarily aligned with one political perspective since the Depression era and the presidency of FDR. This has not served the nation well, as a Republic can only thrive if the people are afforded access to information that strives to be unfiltered by political bias. No source of information completely lacks bias, thus it's incumbent upon the public to be well informed by seeking out multiple sources.
The sepsis that has infected our national politics infects our local polity as well. Venom is spewed across the political spectrum, not with humor but with malice. People really hate each other and attribute the worst motives to opposition candidates. Once in office, officials argue not policy but personality, using the most offensive language and even physical intimidation. Female officeholders in this county have been continuously subjected to misogynist attacks by male counterparts with the press exhibiting an "indifferent yawn" when the target is not a political ally. When the attack is not directed at women, it is often laced with the coarsest vulgarity designed to insult whatever group is targeted. This is unacceptable and explains in part the decline of subscribers for some news outlets.
Front page editorials disguised as news articles exploit tragedies, ignore facts, engage in advocacy editing, thereby denying the public information they need in order to make informed decisions. For instance, the local controversies surrounding recent jail deaths have been shamefully exploited by local media, editing exculpatory information and developing "amnesia" regarding the denial of repeated requests made by Sheriff Ian Parkinson over multiple years to fund additional mental health support for jail inmates. One source told me that as many as 40 percent of current county jail inmates have mental disorders; a former county mental health director told me that 30 years ago that number was 5 percent. A broken, underfunded mental health system with diffused authority and a partisan press that fails to inform owns recent tragedies as much as anyone. Δ
Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor firstname.lastname@example.org.