Being Tolerant Doesn’t Mean I Have To Tolerate Your Intolerance

Just because I try to be tolerant does not mean I have to tolerate your intolerance.

We can’t fix what’s wrong with our country without trying to reach across the divide. But that should never mean tolerating intolerance.

I, along with many of my fellow liberals, watched with admiration as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) found common ground with people who voted for Donald Trump in West Virginia. At MSNBC’s town hall on March 13, Sanders talked with Coal Country voters in McDowell County and found many agree with us on healthcare, the environment, and the need for government programs and investing in our communities.

As Sean Blanda wrote on Medium, “The ‘other side’ is not dumb.” That may be true, but many people are obviously misinformed. It’s one thing to go out on a limb because you’re desperate for change and neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have done much to help your impoverished community. It’s quite another to enthusiastically support a bully who insults Muslims, Hispanics, blacks, and women…And a party that’s okay with that as long as he’s willing to inflict immense suffering on children, seniors, and struggling working families for their wealthy paymasters.

I keep hearing about “unity” and “healing the divide.” And I’d love to see that happen. But guess what? We can’t do that when one side’s intolerance has hardened to the point where they can’t even engage in a rational conversation with us  Seriously. It’s not about whether we agree on our interpretations of the issues and facts at hand. We don’t even agree on what the FACTS are. And forget about good governance. At this point, our debates are not about how to best govern our nation for the good of our people, but whether our federal government should govern for the good of our people at all.

When I was growing up, liberals and conservatives had lively arguments in both the public and private arenas. But our political leaders didn’t have the same kind of intolerance towards facts and science that we have now. Back then, most of us still agreed that findings and reports from scientists, The New York Times, and other mutually trusted sources were factual. Sure, our leaders hid things, put a positive spin on their agendas, and cherry-picked facts that supported their arguments. But we rarely–if ever–heard people on national television denying what research, evidence, and science has proven true.

These agreed-upon facts and sources of facts provided a framework on which our political leaders could could hammer out compromises despite their often fierce disagreements. Now, there’s no middle, because the center does not hold. Right-wingers may not be “dumb.” But in many cases, many are either misinformed or lying.

In any case, the conclusions they reach about issues have little or no basis in fact.

* How can we have a constructive conversation about our energy policy when the Right doesn’t believe that human use of fossil fuels is causing climate change?

* How can we come to any sort of agreement on fracking, KXL and DAPL when conservatives deny the risk of pollution and water contamination exists — against all evidence — and doesn’t see the Standing Rock Sioux‘s land rights as valid, even though it’s a matter of historical record?

* Many liberals are willing to compromise on fossil fuels for the sake of more jobs, energy independence, and/or because pipelines are safer for oil transport than the trucks and trains we’re using now. But conservatives refuse to compromise on anything.

* How can we come to any resolution on unwanted pregnancies, abortion, and women’s healthcare funding when our opponents also oppose sex ed in school and access to birth control (the most effective means for preventing abortions)?

* How can we make any progress on race and women’s issues when — against all historical facts and current statistics — the other side insists people of color and women don’t experience any discrimination? Why won’t they believe what women and people of color keep telling them?

* How can we talk about racism and civil rights when schools still teach people that the Civil War was “the War of Northern Aggression,” and that the majority of slaves were treated very well by their owners?

* How can we come to any resolution on LGBT issues when Republicans seriously sees being gay, bisexual, or transgender as some kind of perverse “choice” instead of what a person *is?* I can’t even understand why sexually/gender non-conforming people upset them so much.

* How can we agree on funding for public programs when the GOP insists that we don’t have enough money to fund them? How can they seriously believe there’s no money? There *is* money, we just spend much of it on the US military and tax breaks for corporations and the rich. Now, if we agreed on how much money goes to the Pentagon and tax breaks vs. food stamps and other forms of welfare, we maybe figure out something, BUT…

* …No matter how many facts and figures you present, conservatives will never accept that over 53 percent of our discretionary funds go to the Pentagon and that even raising the top one percent’s taxes to just 45 percent would bring in $276 billion the first year.  Back in the 1950s and 60s, the top income tax rate was 91 percent and rich people were still rich. Now it’s only 24.7 percent and the rest of us are a lot poorer.

* You can’t even start a conversation about whether it makes sense for corporations to pay more taxes — they averaged 32 percent of federal tax revenue in 1952 and now account for only 10 percent — because conservatives keep insisting — against all evidence — we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world (nominally 39.1 percent). Never mind that the effective rate is only 27.1 percent (source: Americans for Tax Fairness).

* Why do so many gun owners believe liberals want to take away their guns when many liberals also love their guns and all we want is the kind of licensing, safety training, and registration we all happily do when we own and operate our cars?

* Why do conservatives keep talking about how much they value freedom but refuse to accept women’s freedom to choose whether or not to have children, LGBT people’s freedom to love who they love and be who they are, workers’ rights to unionize, and people of color’s freedom to not be arrested, jailed, and/or murdered without due process?

* Why do so many on the Right resent the government for encroaching on individual rights…yet they’re fine with the monopolistic invasiveness of huge global corporations?

Why we can’t bridge the intolerance that’s destroying America.

I have conservative and Trump-supporting friends who I’ve known for a long time and we do discuss issues in a civil fashion and try to understand each other. But we never get anywhere because we can’t even agree on the framework of facts for the conversation. I suspect that the intolerance that’s crippling America and putting us behind most of our world’s industrialized nations boils down to four reasons.

1. The demise of the Fairness Doctrine in 1985: Until then, TV news stations were required to provide coverage for both sides of issues. When Ronald Reagan’s administration dropped the Fairness Doctrine, the major news outlets kept trying to provide balanced reporting…But not Fox news. When it launched in the 1990s, they called themselves “fair and balanced.” But Fox was anything but, and they’ve pandered to the fear and anger of the conservative base.

2. Corporate control of the media: As the media companies grew more consolidated and centered in a handful of cities (mainly new York and Washington, D.C.), they became less in touch with the concerns of most Americans. Just six corporations control 90 percent of media in the US according to Business Insider. No wonder neither liberals nor conservatives trust the news they present. Right-wing talk radio also dominates the airwaves, even in many left-leaning cities. Meaning that millions of commuters listening for the traffic and weather reports get their ears filled with bile twice a day.

3. Special interests: Liberals have their share of special interest groups — like unions, women’s health, the environment, children, etc. — but at least these normally represent issues large numbers of ordinary people care about. Conservatives are known for their avid distrust of government, and many of these beliefs are deep and sincerely held. Yet, their special interest groups tend to work on behalf of wealthy corporate interests. And since the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, we’ve got “special interests” on steroids. Now, billionaires who hate paying taxes — most notoriously the fossil fuels magnates Charles and David Koch — are free to spend as much as they want on getting their candidates elected. They’ve also funded lots of think tanks, “research,” and so-called “grassroots” groups to spread their anti-government message. They also back groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that also writes legislation for eager GOP lawmakers to introduce.

4. Right-wing “Christian” churches: Even more alarming, we have countless numbers of people involved in “Christian” churches that actively promote white supremacy, subjugation of women, corporal punishment of babies and children, and forms of Dominionist theology. And despite the nonprofit status that allows these churches to avoid paying taxes, their leaders illegally insist on involving themselves and their congregations in politics to get public school funds for their bogus “home-schooling” programs, to make women and LGBT people miserable, and to elect people who will make their extremism the law of our land.

So when people tell me my lack of tolerance for intolerance is intolerant, I have only one response: That injustice only exists because people with money and power choose to be cruel and unfair.

Featured image: cc 2016 Gage Skidmore via Flickr (Trump rally); cc 2008 Nathan via Flickr (“Noisy Whistler”).