- - Monday, July 14, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

What has happened in America?

When did we stop listening to those with whom we disagree? When did we stop respecting the opinions of those with whom we disagree?

I grew up in San Bruno, Calif., in a blue-collar, working-class family. My alcoholic father’s job was loading cases of beer onto boxcars during the day and terrorizing his family at night. None of us understood the disease of alcoholism at that time; we just lived in fear. My mother, brothers and sister and I spent most nights sleeping in a locked closet.

As a teenage single mother with no child support, I moved from apartment to apartment with my little boy and was arrested, booked and jailed for passing a bad check. My mug shots are online.

At age 5, my son Bruce was run over by a car and was given a 50-50 chance to live. He spent weeks in the hospital, care for which I was unable to pay. When he was finally allowed home, I had bill collectors on my back and a child who was suffering from night sweats and terrible nightmares. I didn’t know what to do.

Then I found the Community Mental Health Clinic in Sausalito, Calif., where I took Bruce, and after a few months, he was well and happy again. They charged me one dollar a visit.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because the mental health clinic brought relative normalcy to our lives, and the government paid the therapist on my behalf. Clearly, that made me a liberal — or so I thought. In Sausalito, everyone was a hippie liberal, so I was a hippie liberal, too.

Now, some 40 years later, I am no longer a liberal.

I am also not a Republican.

I am an independent who believes in fiscal responsibility, meaning the government should not spend more money than it takes in and should balance its budget every year — just as my parents had to do.

I also believe that it is my responsibility to help those who really need assistance to put food on the table and pay the rent, but that does not include those who are gaming the system and making more money sitting at home than by getting a job. I believe that is criminal and very un-American.

Sadly, in the past few years, our great country has become a divided nation. Black is divided from white. Gay is divided from straight. Rich is divided from poor. Religious is divided from secular. We are not talking to each other. We do not respect our differences. We have become societal isolationists.

We love President Obama because he said he’s helping blacks and the poor.

We hate President Obama because he serves only his radical leftist base and Wall Street. We hate Hobby Lobby. We love Hobby Lobby. We love weed and want it legalized everywhere. We hate weed and all those creeps we see lighting up and “sitting in.”

We hate — we love. There is little — or nothing — in between.

We have taken unmovable positions about everything. We’ve nailed our feet to the floor and angrily refuse to move left or right or (God forbid) to the center. There is no longer a center for anything. You are or you are not, period. End of story.

How did this happen so quickly? Why are we not talking to each other? Why do we not respect and honor the opinions of those with whom we disagree?

My husband grew up in a boarding house in Canada with 17 Marxist Eastern European immigrants who fled the Germans and then the Russians to come to a free country where there were no pogroms or late-night raids and rapes. Yet, he says, they preached the same ideology from which they fled. Go figure: Ideology runs deep in one’s DNA.

My husband’s father (himself on the far left) took him to Queen’s Park in Toronto to listen to all the speakers: the fascists, the communists, the loonies and everyone in between. He wanted his son to hear what everyone had to say — even if he himself disagreed with most of them. He insisted that his son be exposed to every political and social perspective and then decide for himself.

As a result, my husband, Alan, is an independent thinker who considers all points of view with respect. He’s tough but fair in business and a softie with those who truly need a boost in life. Like me, he resents those who suck the life out of our system because they can. Like me, he listens to everyone. Like me, he respects their opinions — regardless of how radically different they may be from his own.

How can we return to the (relatively) halcyon days of President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, when two great Irishmen sat down after hours, knocked back a couple of shooters and made a deal — actually many deals that were compromises on both sides, but which truly benefited the people of America?

Both were great Americans who knew that America was the greatest idea there has ever been. They respected each other. They listened to each other. They liked each other (most of the time). They understood the beauty of a functioning Congress and administration.

Where are the Ronald Reagans and the Tip O’Neills of today? We are in desperate need of leaders who will bring us together and talk to each other, so we can all begin to talk to each other once again.

Suzanne Somers is an actress, singer, entrepreneur and author.

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