By Ezra Sassaman
BAR HARBOR— After the November presidential election, Maine remains a “purple” state, represented in the U.S. Congress by two Democrats, an Independent and a Republican.
Joe Biden won the state of Maine overall, but Donald Trump carried the Maine’s second congressional district, which includes Mount Desert Island.
The country as a whole seems more divided than ever, with Democrats, Independents and Republicans often unable to reach a common understanding of the problems facing the nation and how we can successfully move forward together. But could this perception be wrong?
The Islander talked to five local Mount Desert Island residents to gather their thoughts on the dividing lines between political factions and whether we can overcome ideological differences.
What is dividing us?
Doris Plumer of Bar Harbor said she sees former President Trump as responsible for much of the division in our country. She says she is disappointed that Republican politicians didn’t do more to challenge him. “The only lesson Trump learned from his first impeachment was that almost every elected Republican would support him regardless of what he did.” Plumer sees Republicans’ failure to condemn Trump’s lies as part of a larger issue: “We need a sense of shared truth before we can move forward. As long as we can’t agree on things like the results of an election and the danger of COVID-19, it will be hard to come together.”
Susan Buell of Southwest Harbor agrees, saying it would be hard for her to find common ground with elected Republicans who “refused to speak up against Trump being ruthless, sexist, racist, ultra-nationalist, without pushing back. I did not see integrity from them. And it wasn’t just people like Steve Bannon and Steven Miller, it was the run-of-the-mill Republicans.” Buell saw Trump’s presidency as “one long series of warning signs from him that Republicans kept making excuses for, all of which led to the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.”
Cathy Coston of Bar Harbor sees national media and social media fueling the divide between people. “I believe the media are mainly responsible for the current division. I believe they like it and want to keep it that way. It keeps their ratings high. Also, the media make sure to push their agenda and villainize those with opposing views.” She is also worried about liberals and progressives cheering on the censorship of conservatives. “When [tech companies] can censor free speech we’re all going to go down with the ship. [Some liberals and progressives] are just so mean that as long as they see what they consider their opponent ‘losing’ they couldn’t care less about the bigger picture.”
Brandon Monroe of Bar Harbor is also concerned about how social media affects politics. “The loudest voices are heard the most. A single extreme viewpoint on the other side is amplified to get clicks. The opinion of one person on one side gets turned into ‘what the other side believes.’” He also sees many people disappointed by the two-party system. “I think most people are moderates who don’t fit neatly into one party or the other. If I’m pro-gun and pro-choice, for example, who should I vote for?”
Sofie Dowling of Great Cranberry Isle says that partisanship allows people to completely dismiss points of view other than their own. She sees political labels like “Democrat” and “Republican” themselves causing divisiveness. “People now use those political denominations to discredit and devalue the opinions of those opposite them. ‘Liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are used to demonize whole swaths of our friends and family without any actual civil discussion of the issues. This hate is the main force that separates us as a nation and catalyzes the divide between parties.”
What do we have in common?
Plumer sees many commonalities between voters regardless of their political views. “We all want healthcare, jobs, a clean environment, housing and food.” She also believes that all people have the opportunity to come together with the shared goal of defeating our common enemy: coronavirus. “COVID-19 is not a political issue; it’s a human issue and we should be united in fighting it.”
Buell says everyone is looking for a sense of stability for themselves and their family. “Everyone wants to work for a fair wage. Fair means you don’t have to work two or three jobs to make a living. It means you have time at night to be with your family. It means you don’t have to move every off-season to find a new job.” She sees hope in bipartisan polling support for universal healthcare. “If you can’t support Medicare for All during a pandemic, what are you waiting for?”
Coston looks to American pride as a uniting force. “I hope what we all have in common is our love for this country and its founding values. I believe we’re a very kind and generous nation.” She’s concerned that the country’s past is being denigrated by “tearing down statues, changing our history books, disparaging historical figures that were iconic if not somewhat personally flawed.”
Monroe says everyone agrees on “health, happiness and wellbeing for yourself and your neighbor– but answering how we get there is when we get divided.” Instead of spending time discussing politics on social media platforms, he supports more in-person conversations. “You used to spend time in your community in person, meeting and talking with people you disagreed with. Now, social media allows you to isolate yourself in an ideological echo chamber.”
Dowling agrees we should talk to people with a different political background than ourselves. “I think some issues will always be troublesome to people of opposite beliefs but in general, we should all be more willing to talk to one another with an open mind. I know people benefit from conversations that challenge their views. Even if what you learn is that you have a strengthened and more educated base in your same views, that is learning and would do us all good.”
What do you think will happen in the upcoming years? What are you hopeful for?
Plumer hopes we can overhaul our political system in the upcoming years. “I want to see the end of the Electoral College. I want norms, like presidents showing their tax returns and putting money in blind trusts, to be changed into laws to prevent this exploitation of every loophole by the next power-hungry person we get. I want Biden and Harris to pick up the pieces of a shattered country and slowly put us back together.”
Buell is happy with many of Biden’s priorities. “Rejoining the Paris Agreement, giving DREAMers a path towards citizenship, undoing the Muslim Ban, providing direct COVID-relief payments, and a minimum wage increase to $15/hour are all a good start.” She hopes he can be pushed towards large-scale progressive goals. “I would also like more federal jobs programs. Look at the historical example of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which helped build Acadia National Park. New Deal programs provided training, food, education, and money to many workers across America. Biden needs to be pushed toward the Green New Deal.”
Coston worries that Biden will significantly increase the national deficit as he “bows to the progressives’ demands.” She is skeptical that we can come together. “I wish I could say that we will somehow reunite as a nation but there are so many people that are simply unwilling to even hear someone else’s point of view.” She wants to see a divided government in the future. “In two years, I imagine that the Republicans will regain the Senate and possibly the House, I hope so anyway. One party leadership is not beneficial to the vast majority, no matter which party it is.”
Monroe hopes Biden can bring a sense of quiet and moderation. “I hope Biden does exactly what he’s known for, not ruffling feathers. He’s a moderate. I hope he can just chill out and everyone can calm down. I want to get back to the president as a political figurehead, who isn’t vocal about every opinion. I never want to hear the word ‘Twitter’ again! If everyone could stop tweeting, that would be a success. I honestly don’t see a lot changing with Biden as president.”
Dowling says she understands the challenges that lie ahead but is hopeful that we can overcome them together. “I see a great wind of change and love for our nation moving forward. There are injustices and pains, which no one can promise to solve, but I see our youth and our whole population readying itself to try, which brings me immense hope. I believe that our country is headed for healing, which is always a slow, sometimes painful and sometimes boring process but such a necessary one. This is such a frightening and uncertain time to be alive and my hope is positive change for all of us, and for the earth.”