As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I loved football, baseball and basketball. But then there was one other sport that rivaled for my attention.
It wasn’t boxing or track. Instead, it was politics.
In my teen years, I became fascinated with the process, the games of one-upmanship and some of the barbs rival politicians hurled at each other.
It almost sounded like wrestling.
Unlike the real sports, something fascinated me about the innerworkings of politics.
Here, we saw political rivals take potshots and make fierce stances against each other in the political war games.
Once they stepped off camera, or when it was time to focus on something more important than their respective parties, they got down the business.
During the 1980s, no greater rivalry existed on Capitol Hill than President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill.
Reagan, of course, was a Republican and O’Neill was a Democrat.
They played political chess against one another throughout the years Reagan was in the White House.
They took joy in stopping each other in their tracks in a battle between the top dogs in the executive and legislative branch.
“Mr. President, you really make my life miserable at times,” O’Neill once told Reagan.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard today,” Reagan replied.
But in the 11th hour, they managed to put aside their differences and hammer out a compromise that delivered more than either of the men expected when they entered the meeting.
It’s a far cry from today when the rhetoric is far more about hatred. It’s far more about domination than compromise.
Some observe that mindset took shape in the late 1980s with the rise of talk radio, which owes much of its success to a sharply divided culture.
The liberals will tell their listeners exactly what they want to hear, and the right-wingers will placate their audiences much the same way.
Maybe that’s when polarization began, but it pales in comparison to what we see today.
The battles between the Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are nasty, below the belt and often embarrassing.
We saw it much of the past four years in the Trump administration and we’re seeing it continue, regardless of what President Joe Biden said in his inaugural address.
The biggest culprit in that department is perhaps social media, which seems every bit as addictive as cigarettes in their prime – and probably every bit as dangerous.
No middle ground exists on social media discussions regarding politics. It’s a matter of one side entirely right and the other side entirely wrong.
It’s frightening to note how intensely divisive this nation has become just in the past 20 years.
As bad as it seemed a couple of years after the kumbaya period of 9/11, it all seems tame by today’s standards.
Social media kowtows to one side or the other, just as we see with cable networks. Flip the channels between Fox and CNN, and you’ll see two sharply contrasting versions of the world.
More than anything else, it’s important for us to listen and to read.
That’s not to say we need to embrace ideas we don’t support or believe in, and we should not have to do that in what is supposedly a free country.
We should consider the example we’re setting for the next generation. Maybe we need to think about how people somehow cast their differences aside, albeit briefly, after 9/11.
It’s almost ironic that it’s on my mind when we’re a little over four months away from the 20th anniversary of that morning of horror.
The acrimony that has seemingly gotten worse than ever could likely be worse 20 years down the line.
Somehow, we need to realize that the deep divisions only stand to further divide us.
Reagan and O’Neill apparently embraced that notion in the 1980s. In 2021, it’s time that our leaders in Washington, D.C., do the same.