Common ground? - Shawn Loughlin editorial
My late friend Greg Sarachman and I talked a lot about politics. He said in recent years he could see a marked shift in The Citizen’s editorials and columns into the political realm, taking stances with which he personally agreed, but that had varying degrees of success with other readers who may be a bit more conservative.
I always told him that it was the election of Donald Trump in 2016 that really awakened something in me. As a result, those feelings really transformed this space from writings about sports and music, full of personal anecdotes (though there are still those things) to something a little more political in nature.
There was a time, I told him, that I not-so-jokingly wanted one of Trump’s ugly red hats. This was long before Trump was even taken seriously as a Republican candidate, let alone a contender for the presidency. At the time, I equated the host of The Apprentice running for president with other gag political runs, like a cat being the mayor of an Alaskan town or a porn star running to be the mayor of Toronto. However, week by week, it became clear that Trump was tapping into something ugly and, as people who had been following him for some time knew (unlike myself), his nasty, bigoted personality was nothing new.
His open racism and war with the media really cut me to the bone and I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe that a supposedly advanced nation chose him to be its leader. Then, here at home, we saw shades of the potential for a mini-Trump in newly-elected Premier Doug Ford, though as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world, when Trump zigged, Ford zagged, much to the relief of many Ontarians.
That’s the story of my political awakening; a new type of politics that revealed something very ugly bubbling just beneath the surface.
Or was it? Maybe, as a white man who didn’t want for much growing up in Canada, I was just sheltered from these problems.
In the last week, I have stumbled across two examples showing that, these problems, specifically in the U.S., are far from new.
The first was a CNN investigation that cited the milquetoast world of American politics years ago, saying that the differences between the country’s two parties were so insignificant that it was almost hard to tell them apart. The piece really made the case that it was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and media figures like Fox News founder Roger Ailes and recently deceased talk radio leader Rush Limbaugh who worked to create the division we see today in the U.S.
The second was actually a re-read of one of my favourite books: Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about desegregation school busing in Boston.
When I first read it, I was blown away by its scope and there it was, right in the first chapter of the book. Following the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, as Colin Diver listens to Tom Atkins, Boston’s only Black elected official, on the radio, he has to reconsider what he knows about his country. “As Atkins spoke, Colin felt a terrible anguish for his country. Atkins was saying that America was already two societies – separate and unequal, and already so far apart they couldn’t reach out to each other in this terrible moment.”
There it was in black and white – what I was feeling for the U.S. was nothing new. That paragraph could have been written this year and no one would bat an eye. So, perhaps the only thing new about what’s going on to the south of us is that I started paying attention.