The split(s)

Posted 11/15/17

[Peace and Justice Files columnist Skip Mendler, having spent three months helping with refugee assistance in Serbia, is now back in Krefeld, Germany, doing local volunteer work, performing with a …

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The split(s)


[Peace and Justice Files columnist Skip Mendler, having spent three months helping with refugee assistance in Serbia, is now back in Krefeld, Germany, doing local volunteer work, performing with a refugee theatre group, and contemplating his next move.]

I don’t know if you remember your first time… undergoing cell division, that is.

That’s OK. After all, it happened a long time ago. But you might remember the films from biology class. Pretty wild, right?

From the inside, from the point of view of say, some mitochondrion or some other organelle, I imagine that it would seem really crazy, as if the simple unicellular world as you had known it was ending. All the familiar structures around you shifting for no discernable reason, everything getting so polarized, reorganizing, getting ready for something to happen, maybe something catastrophic… but you would be caught up in this process, with no idea of what was causing it or guiding it and no idea at all about where it might be leading.

But then, next thing you know, there you would be, safe and sound in your own new cell, back to doing your old job, things settling back to normal—until you started to feel the changes starting again.

With that image in mind, I invite you to read and contemplate the following article, in which the folks at the Pew Research Center hold forth on their latest dissection of the American body politic:

Here’s my “tl;dr” (“too long; didn’t read”) summary: while the polarization of American politics continues apace, particularly between the most engaged activists on each side, there are also significant reorganizations beginning to happen within the two parties. This suggests (to me, at least) that more and more people are not being satisfied anymore by the—if the system would let that happen, that is.

Even Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary in the Clinton Administration, almost seems willing to allow for the possibility that the two-party model just isn’t quite cutting it anymore (

But it’s interesting that both the Pew folks and Secretary Reich can’t quite break out completely from that old model, still trying to keep all these factions corralled within the same two big pastures. Neither can conservative speechwriter Michael Gerson (

Gershon quite correctly sees corruption rife and new ideas absent in both the old parties, but he can’t imagine any alternative ways forward. All he sees is that the American political future lies “on the other side of an earthquake.”

But it’s not as hard as he thinks. You only have to do two things: (1) allow for the possibility of more than two approaches to policy problems, and (2) look for the areas where almost everyone agrees things are screwed up.

I hope that when you read that Pew article (you did read it, didn’t you?) you took advantage of the invitation to take the survey that they based their “typology” on. This survey is interesting in and of itself. The questions that they chose were, after all, designed to point out the strongest differences among us. But what if they had asked things like this instead, things where they might find agreement across the board:

Which of these options best reflect your point of view?

The rich and powerful are genuinely concerned about the well-being of people like me.

The rich and powerful really don’t care about people like me.

Or how about:

My elected representatives give equal weight to the concerns of all their constituents.

If you’re not a major donor, forget about getting the ear of a politician.

You get the idea. We know what the problems are. And if we are to get beyond them and grow and develop, as a nation and a species, we’re going to have to let the splits, and the reorganizations, and the reunions, start to happen.


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