In a column posted on Wired.com, Issie Lapowsky called Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg “one of the most skilled politicians of our times.” That observation came after conservatives accused Facebook staffers of suppressing conservative content in its Trending Topics feature. In response, Zuckerberg invited more than a dozen prominent conservatives to a meeting in the Silicon Valley, and the attendees (who included Glenn Beck of talk radio fame and Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of the Tea Party) came away satisfied and appreciative.
Zuckerberg was clearly not going to change his own liberal views, but he convinced his guests that he valued their input and had a “genuine desire” to address their concerns.
“And the good news for Facebook,” Lapowsky concluded, “is that no one will ever blame him for aspiring to be more neutral. In fact, Facebook will likely be better off if people of different ideologies believe the company is trying its hardest to remain nonpartisan. That’s not just good politics. That’s good business.”
But if conciliation constitutes good business and politics, then most of America is in serious trouble, and that includes Salida – even though our city elections are non-partisan. Despite their bucolic surroundings, Salidans are as prone to mean-spirited accusations and hostile reactions as national operatives.
In our era, open animosity is flourishing everywhere. (And the only citizens who have never been offended or gotten mad are likely apathetic or dead.)
In February, The Wall Street Journal posted an essay by Charles Murphy called “Trump’s America,” which addressed the issue from a conservative standpoint. Murphy believes that there used to be a “national consensus” that favored “egalitarianism, liberty and individualism,” but it died with the emergence of a new upper class. According to Murphy, a characteristic of that class “is their easy acceptance of being members of an upper class and their condescension toward ordinary Americans.”
“For its part, mainstream America is fully aware of this condescension and contempt and is understandably irritated by it. American egalitarianism is on its last legs,” Murphy contends.
And in their works about growing income inequality, liberal economists Paul Krugman, Robert Reich and Joseph Stiglitz reveal their concerns about how we treat America’s working class.
Today we live in a nation full of people who feel they’re being treated unfairly, and they’re right. Even though we Americans tend to praise our country as the world’s fairest, people’s prospects are still influenced by their ancestry, class and social status. And many Americans still don’t receive equal treatment under the law.
But fairness is not a fact; it’s a goal that requires ongoing effort and resolve to foster. And that truth suggests an obvious question: do Americans really want our nation to uphold its celebrated precepts regarding liberty, equality and justice for all?
The answer to that question appears to be “no.” Despite our country’s much vaunted allegiance to democracy, we are increasingly a country warring over who should be heard and heeded. In fact, some of the fiercest arguments playing out in American politics today are not about what should be done, but about who should get to decide what should be done.
Our inclination is not to listen to other people’s concerns or address them. It is to characterize our political opponents as either foolish know-nothings or evil opportunists. Then having decided they’re either idiots or villains, we dismiss their problems as either unfounded or well-deserved.
Such confident bias is embraced by pretty much everyone, be they Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, rich, poor, virtuous or jaded, and it’s as common in Salida as it is in Congress.
And now, Salida’s two major contingents have battled themselves into such divergent factions, it’s scary to imagine what might happen if either side folds.
Several years ago, a divisive campaign about whether Salida should be a home rule or statutory city evolved into an argument about how much to spend on the pool roof, which escalated into a disagreement over whether to build a new outdoor pool, and then three pools, and then a pool complex to rival Glenwood Hot Springs.
Somewhere along the line some of the people who felt the proposed multi-million dollar pool repairs were too expensive started talking about how shutting the pool and SteamPlant theater would likely save us enough money to finally fix the streets.
Whereupon the opposition started talking about the possibility of building a pool/hockey rink complex and/or artificial lake that would cost tens of millions.
Clearly, the two sides were taunting one another, but instead of deterring the opposition, they energized it to the point where, if we keep going in this direction, we will soon be talking about where to put our new international airport when we’re not discussing razing the Touber Building to put in a parking lot.
Obviously, I’m kidding. But not by much. Nationally and locally, this sort of politicking is pushing people toward extremes and it has prodded exactly that in Salida. Now our city’s fast-paced development craze has converted so many homes into vacation rentals and driven rents so high, it’s hard for workers to find affordable accommodations.
That, however, can be fixed. What may not be fixable is our relationships.
Recently, the Salida council decided not to renew the city administrator’s contract, which thrilled some Salidans and horrified others.
As for me? I find it all heart-breaking, and a little baffling – the open animosity between Salida’s factions, the citizen’s disillusionment, our city’s failure to connect with half of the citizenry and the emotional pain and distress all that inflicts.
But I don’t fault the Salida council for taking action. Dara MacDonald, the city administrator, had become so entangled in Salida’s adversarial politics it seems unlikely that anything could have improved under her direction. My hope is that she and the Salida finance director who recently resigned, will find happier circumstances in the very near future.
Of course, that’s my hope for all of us – that this political season will leave us unscathed and smiling.
Despite setbacks, I still believe citizens have the right to clamor for trails, recreation centers and hockey rinks. I likewise believe that citizens have the right to air their grievances, complain about expenditures and sport political bumper stickers.
In Salida, we pitted proposals for transformative change and large public investments against desires for no change and a savings plan. Our political discourse promoted either/or scenarios, scorned compromise, and fueled contempt. And everybody lost because we need balance, not provocation.
Small towns shouldn’t boost business or tourism by insulting the elderly or neglecting half of the citizens. All of our citizens are important. But Salida’s rallying cry on both sides was, “Forget the consequences, ATTACK!”
And that’s commonplace all across America.
In our town, we are constantly being counseled to appreciate our government employees, and I do. They take a lot of guff and are too often vilified. But I also appreciate the scrappers who protest what they believe to be unfair government policies. Democratic governance requires both.
But lest we forget, appreciation isn’t automatically owed to those who have power or influence; it’s earned. As long as our leaders promote policies that serve small portions of the electorate while disregarding other citizens, they will find themselves getting small portions of appreciation and lots of criticism.
There’s no question Zuckerberg is a genius, but good public relations don’t require one. No politician or public servant can serve everyone’s needs and wants; but nevertheless, fairness requires hearing and earnestly reflecting upon the views of as many people as possible.
Martha Quillen tries to aim her rude retorts at inanimate objects, because she suspects hurt feelings and reflexive retaliation have a lot to do with what ails us.