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U.S. flag on pole Tim Hearden
An American flag flies in front of a government building in Sacramento, Calif.

Don't let pundits, pols drag us into civil war

Commentary: Media, politicians have a vested interest in stoking conflict

Amid the impeachment frenzy and all the talk of America being on the verge of a “second civil war,” I’ve had several encounters in the last 18 months that give me hope for America.

The first was in Mississippi, where I attended a new-employee orientation at our company’s office in Clarksdale in April 2018. It was my first real visit to the South, and I had the pleasure of experiencing Southern hospitality firsthand.

A security guard in a restaurant parking lot, upon hearing it was my first visit to Mississippi, shook my hand while querying, “Well what took you so long?” Later that evening. Later that evening, a bartender at Ground Zero (so named for the area’s significance to the history of blues) heard I was visiting from California.

“Well you should feed this man,” she cheerfully told my editor. “He’s probably just used to eating sprouts.” I had been sampling Southern cuisine, and she told us about the next day’s chicken-and-biscuits lunch special, which we returned for.

The thing was, both individuals were African-Americans. This was a small town in Mississippi, and I was a middle-aged white guy from California. They went far beyond just being courteous and professional, which is what their jobs would have required. They were genuinely pleased to have an enthusiastic visitor in their neck of the woods, whatever my race or background.

Another encounter was with a young Uber driver during a 4-hour trek from Portland, Ore., to Walla Walla, Wash., on the day before Thanksgiving last year. (The trip was courtesy of the airline that canceled our flight.)

We talked about a lot of things, including politics. He was what you might think of as a typical Millennial – a university student who was moonlighting for a little more cash. He’s that urban consumer that so many of my farmer friends would like to reach. We had an interesting – and very amenable – discussion.

I’ve seen similar exchanges of ideas at numerous grower meetings where members of the environmental or animal-welfare communities were seeking common ground with ag interests. It’s a spirit of cooperation that produced water-sharing agreements in the Klamath Basin, among other successes.

Yet if you listen to politicians and media pundits, we should all be at each other’s throats. The folks who traffic in the language of revolution would likely think black Mississippians should have spat in my face, or the driver should have kicked me to the curb for creating the “unfair” world that Millennials must live in.

But I think most Americans get along better than do the politicians and media pundits who have a vested interest in stoking conflict for fundraising, for TV ratings or to help their political allies. Indeed, in a recent Pew Research Center survey, large majorities of Americans of all political stripes are bothered by all the negative discourse and think both major parties are too extreme.

My solution: Shut off cable news and elect politicians who offer solutions, not rhetoric.

You might have a happier Thanksgiving.

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