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Despite polarization, not much really separates us

by Paul Prather | November 19, 2022 at 4:16 a.m.

As I write this, I've just returned from voting in the 2022 midterm election. The polls remain open. I have no idea how the balloting will turn out for the nation, although I would put money on how it will turn out here in Kentucky, ours being a relentlessly red state.

In any case, by the time you read this, you'll know whatever there is to know about today's outcomes.

On the whole, though, or at least on the surface, our country appears more divided than it has been since the run-up to the Civil War. I've heard that constantly from pundits on the right and left. People think we're on the cusp of, God forbid, a second civil war.

The alarmists say if the Republicans win control of Congress, they'll destroy democracy, abolish women's rights and usher in authoritarianism. If the Democrats retain control, we're bound for Cold War-era, Soviet-style socialism and gulags.

We've been assured this is the most critical election of modern times.

Maybe it is. So much chaos, mutual loathing and just plain stupidity have been injected into our political system that no matter which side comes out on top today, the other side is likely to feel trapped, claim it was cheated and boil over with rage.

A central tragedy of all this is that it doesn't have to be this way.

On Nov. 6, one segment of "60 Minutes" explored social media's role in fueling our political polarization. See

"We are tribal creatures who love to do us versus them," explained one expert, Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor at NYU's Stern School of Business, who studies the strategies social media platforms use to keep us tuned to their services. "And we're now learning to co-exist with a technology that tries to force that down our throat, that tries to make us angry all the time."

But it turns out the online firebrands who try to keep everybody perpetually ginned up -- who pass on disinformation and sling mud and spew bile -- largely come from the far right and far left, he said.

"What percentage of the population are they?" asked correspondent Bill Whitaker.

"It's about 7% or 8% on each side," Haidt replied.

Whitaker: "That's it?"

"Yeah. That's right," Haidt said.

"So the extremes have been handed the power to dominate even though they are fewer in number?" Whitaker said.

"That's right. Exactly," Haidt said.

This is what I've been arguing for years. I happen to have people I love who hail from all political perspectives. I'm not yet living in an ideological silo. I hope you're not either.

I don't check my parishioners' political affiliations, but as far as I can tell the congregation I lead is about evenly made up of Republicans and Democrats. It's the same with my family. It's the same among my friends.

I know people who are straight up MAGA, Don't-Tread-On-Me, God-guns-and-glory flag wavers. I know people who are tree-hugging, crunchy, Birkenstock-wearing lefties.

You want to hear our country's best-kept secret? There's not a nickel's worth of difference between them.

No, truly, there's not.

Because -- yes, I'm repeating myself from columns past -- nobody is ever just one thing. Nobody is just a Trump supporter and that's all. Nobody is just a wackadoodle leftie and that's all.

That Trumpian or that granola cruncher is also a parent, a sibling, a son or daughter, an employee, a co-worker, a little league coach, a ballroom dancer, a store manager, a deacon, a teacher, a caregiver to an elderly parent -- and/or 20 other things.

Everybody you get to know largely wants a job that pays a decent wage, education for his children, trustworthy friends, good health, a partner who loves her.

If she sees somebody injured or with a stalled vehicle, she'll stop to help. If his neighbor is sick, he'll take her a kettle of homemade soup -- even if she's a member of the opposition party. He prays to the same God you do. She plays the same Powerball. He salutes the same flag.

And mostly, out here in the actual world, we get along. There's always that one crank in the break room who can't quit talking politics and conspiracy theories. But with four out of five people you know, you generally find common ground on four out of five things you discuss -- the weather, football, your loony kids.

Unless you happen to be that one crank.

But don't become that one crank. Don't be swayed by the dividers and soreheads and doomsayers on Twitter and Facebook, or those at the Thanksgiving table. The great majority of us really can get along. We already do, every day.

We don't need, or want, a civil war.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling, Ky. You can email him at

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