Sometimes the best advice can come from the strangest places. Jackie Cushman has a new book out entitled, “Our Broken America: Why Both Sides Need to Stop Ranting and Start Listening.” Such advice could not come at a better time. Ranting has become our national pastime and it is hard to listen when we are ranting. And if we aren’t broken as a nation, we are badly bent.
The irony is that the author, a nationally syndicated columnist, also happens to be the daughter of Newton Leroy Gingrich, the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, who turned ranting into an art form during his time in Congress.
I had many dealings with His Highness of Hyperbole during my days at the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games as a part of my responsibilities in dealing with the federal government. Mr. Gingrich could make a rant out of a lima bean.
Gingrich was one of the driving forces behind the creation of GOPAC, which was and remains a training ground for would-be Republican political candidates at the state and national level. At his urging, GOPAC distributed a memo in 1990 to legislative candidates entitled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” After assuring acolytes that “the words in that paper are tested language from a recent series of focus groups where we actually tested ideas and language,” the memo suggested describing opponents as “destructive, sick, pathetic, shallow and traitors.” And those were the good things.
After a Republican landslide in 1994, when the GOP gained 54 seats and took control of the House for the first time since 1954, Gingrich was instrumental in shutting down the government twice and in the spirit of “everything old is new again” led the effort to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998. The Senate acquitted him in 1999.
When Republicans lost five seats in the House in 1998, Gingrich was held largely responsible for the losses by his colleagues. The day after the election, he resigned as speaker and left the House for good in January 1999. It was quite a spectacular flame-out.
What remains from those days is a “scorched earth” approach to political discourse that has only worsened, thanks to the advent of social media and 24/7 media babble.
Donald Trump has accomplished some positive things that are lost in his intemperate rhetoric and that of his detractors. The market is at an all-time high and unemployment hovers around 4 percent, which is considered full employment. He may yet get that little dweeb in North Korea to behave himself and China to stop stealing our intellectual property. Yet, everybody is mad about something.
It is in this environment that Jackie Gingrich Cushman suggests most of us who aren’t wingnuts try and find some common ground. She says 64 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans have few or no friends in the opposite party. That is so absurd as to be laughable. She calls it tribalism: “My tribe is better than your tribe.” Cushman cautions this kind of narrow-minded view encourages us all to be members of a tribe before members of a country.
Cushman told a group of Republicans in Cobb County recently to “spend time with whoever cares about the same thing and work together. You make progress and you don’t know if they’re a Democrat or Republican.” It could be homelessness, education, the arts, whatever. In other words, get to know people as people and not as tribal wingnuts. And as people, do good works for others. How hard is that?
Unfortunately, in the poisoned times in which we find ourselves, it is very hard to stop ranting and start listening to each other as Jackie Cushman suggests. As we speak, the tribes are gearing up for another go at impeachment, only this time it is with a Republican president and a bunch of righteously indignant Democrats. Déjà vu all over again.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could remember we are unhyphenated Americans and appreciate what we have in common rather than obsessing over what divides us? Patrick Henry didn’t say it first, but he said it best: “United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.” Amen.
Of course, if this kind of talk of getting along with each other doesn’t float your boat and you want to rant, I am here to listen. After all, dear wingnut, we are a team.
•Dick Yarbrough is a four-time winner of the Best Humor Column by the Georgia Press Association. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.