Columnist Jay Fleitman: Save your politics for the dinner table

  • President Donald Trump speaks at the 2018 House and Senate Republican Member Conference at The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., on Feb. 1.  AP FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/5/2018 7:17:29 PM

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address offered only a few surprises (“Trump warns of outside dangers,” Jan. 31).

Overall, it reiterated political positions and approaches which for him have been well established. The extremely negative coverage of the speech by liberal-leaning venues in the media is also no longer surprising.

That negative reporting, however, contrasts sharply with what appears to be the response to that speech by the general public. If the recent CBS poll is to be believed, there was a 75 percent approval by the audience who watched that speech, including 43 percent approval by self- identified Democrats. Eighty percent of the polled audience felt that the speech was trying to unite Americans and 65 percent of the audience responded that this made them proud to be Americans.

That’s not to say that the night was without some surprises. I had not before heard the president so clearly state his decision to keep open the facilities at Guantanamo Bay. More notably, if you had not been listening carefully to the news in the days leading up to the speech, it may have been a surprise that the president offered legal status and a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA ) program, triple the 600,000 covered by former President Obama’s executive action and seemingly inconsistent with what has been assumed to be this president’s antipathy to immigrants.

I have heard some Republicans complain that the overtly hostile response by the Democratic members of Congress in attendance at the State of the Union speech was rude and discourteous to the president. I disagree. There was nothing unusual in this kind of response by members of an opposing party. Republicans in Congress during the Obama administration were similarly oppositional during his State of the Union addresses.

What was a bit different this time around was the entertainment value of the grimacing and puckering on the faces of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer during the speech. Also very surprising was the seeming lack of appreciation of Democrats to the interests of those who are presumably their constituents.

The announcement in the speech that unemployment was down and wages were rising for Americans should have garnered at least some applause by Democrats. The reports that unemployment among African-Americans and Hispanic Americans are at all-time lows similarly should have garnered at least some enthusiasm among African-American and Hispanic Democrat Congressional members. If I were in those demographic groups seeing the dour and surly expressions on the faces of those congressional delegations when these good news pronouncements were made, I would be wondering if these people were truly representing my interests.

A similar question should be raised by immigrants with interest in the DACA program. The president announced a tripling of the number eligible for protection in this program and also established a definitive route to citizenship. This is an expansion of the previous demands that had to date been discussed.

The Democratic response subsequent to the speech was that this was no longer acceptable even though it was a concession far more than previously had been asked. Democrats have since threatened to reject the this offer of protection of DACA recipients for an array of reasons: the path to citizenship at 12 years is too long, attaching this to a ban on chain migration was unacceptable, and/or ending the random diversity lottery for legal immigration in place of a merit-based system was now a deal breaker.

If I were a young immigrant eligible under the DACA program, I might be angry that Democrats seem to be sabotaging my protections by moving the goalposts in the immigration policy discussions. This is particularly ironic given that it was the proposal of then-President Clinton that chain migration and the random diversity lottery be ended, and it is also ironic that the outline of a DACA-like program was first introduced by then-President George W. Bush.

This weekend, we were at a local venue watching a show with well-known local performers. Midway through their set, they aggressively turned their music to politics. They either clearly assumed that the entire audience was in agreement with them, or they simply didn’t care about the impact of their harangue on paying members of their audience who didn’t share their politics. They were extreme in this, and there clearly was an “us-versus-them” quality to their politics,  with those on our part of the political spectrum being “the enemy.”

We have seen these musicians many times in the past but left the show so offended that we will never see them again. This certainly is why viewership is down on the broadcast award shows like the Grammys and the Academy Awards. There is a large segment of their viewership simply put off by being lectured and denigrated by the presumption of these performers who have no greater wisdom or insight into politics than do members of the general population. I stopped watching these shows years ago.

This is no different than the injection of politics by professors and teachers into their course delivery.

To these performers and lecturers who infuse politics into their presentations, I suggest that you resist this urge and stop. Otherwise, you are accomplishing nothing positive, and it is but a self-indulgence.

The members in the audience who share your politics already agree with you. You will not convince those in your audience who are politically on a different side. You simply alienate them and lose your credibility with them.

Please save your politics for the dinner table or for your next public political demonstration. That way, you may at least contribute by reducing the current political polarization in the U.S.

Jay Fleitman, M.D., of Northampton writes a monthly column. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.


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