There are risks and costs to action, but they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction. — John F. Kennedy
My last column (Jan. 6) was about the theoretical side of my little epiphany. This week I’m trying to explain to myself and to you what the applied part of its anatomy might look like — one that involves connecting two far-flung points on a U.S. map at a local, community level via their trusted local newspapers.
For instance, pairing the Sag Harbor Express with, say, the Branson Tri-Lakes News in Missouri, and maybe the East Hampton Star with the White Water Register in Wisconsin. I’ve just been reading online The Clearwater Progress out of Kamiah, Idaho (one of the “reddest” states in the union), which covers the same ordinary but often heart-warming community-centered news as anything our Reporter offers.
But that’s the thing, it gives me the same feeling I get when traveling through a town I’ve never been to, watching people cross the streets, come out of the post office, turn into the shopping center, what I would be doing if I lived there. But as a stranger, the fact that it’s all so familiar anyway, even though I’ve never been there, is kind of eerie.
Strangers-yet-not-strangers. Our Town. That feeling of recognition has been lost to many of us over the past several years. I’ve become as incapable as anyone else of speaking directly to someone on the “other side.”
The idea of contemplating a calm, reasonable discussion with someone who supports The Big Lie, voter suppression, anti-vaccination and/or one of the many bizarre conspiracy theories abroad in this land seems as impossible to me as having a civil conversation with a flagrant liberal who supports gun safety, criminal justice, immigration reform, and expansion of rights across the board would seem to one of “them.”
Apparently there’s a term for this complete breakdown of communication.
According to an article by Nate Cohn published in The New York Times in April 2021 and updated in September 2021: “American democracy faces many challenges: New limits on voting rights. The corrosive effect of misinformation. The rise of domestic terrorism. Foreign interference in elections. Efforts to subvert the peaceful transition of power. And making matters worse on all of these issues is a fundamental truth: The two political parties see the other as an enemy. It’s an outlook that makes compromise impossible and encourages elected officials to violate norms in pursuit of an agenda or an electoral victory. It turns debates over changing voting laws into existential showdowns. And it undermines the willingness of the loser to accept defeat — an essential requirement of a democracy. This threat to democracy has a name: sectarianism. It’s not a term usually used in discussions about American politics. It’s better known in the context of religious sectarianism — like the hostility between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq. Yet a growing number of eminent political scientists contend that political sectarianism is on the rise.”
So maybe one-on-one connection seems impossible right now, but if, across the nation, local papers began partnering-up, sharing ideas, information, and observations about one another and eventually creating a cross-hatch of connection throughout our country, then we’d have begun to weave a kind of fabric of truth, trust and connection, which might bridge some of the divisions we have now.
It wouldn’t hurt any of us to have our community highlighted, and even “headlined” occasionally in another community hundreds or thousands of miles away, and vice versa.
To begin to pay close attention to them with the same interest and enjoyment we apply to our own community? No, that wouldn’t hurt.
Is this like some kind of “Mickey and Judy” brainstorm? A sophomoric experiment more suited to third period Social Studies class than a possibly viable idea worth doing something about?
Maybe, except we have the papers (while they survive), and we have the people, and the screaming need to take some kind of action now.
Because, the thing is, if our shared citizenship doesn’t automatically give us some point of tangency that can be expanded on, then what does that citizenship mean? If the fact of it actually divides rather than unifies us, then, as Lincoln feared, we become two warring nations.
We’re not a Humpty Dumpty nation. Whether or not this “paper pals” idea catches on, we shouldn’t stop trying to put our country back together. Ideas like this one may seem crazy, but not trying something seems magnitudes crazier.