“You know, Las Vegas has more car vandalism than most cities,” the car rental agent told me. “You really need that extra insurance.”

Eric Frydenlund mug

Eric Frydenlund

I felt the unsettling conflict between a damage claim and the insurance cost rising in my gut. I could also feel the money leaving my wallet. I had been sold a bill of goods.

In politics, we have been sold a bill of goods. The mythological conflict between left and right, conservative and liberal — and if you believe the myth, good and evil — has played a debilitating role in the body politic.

The purveyors of this myth — the politicians, their consultants, the NRA, the talking heads, Russian operatives, the advertising agencies framing the myth — profit from our gullibility by selling a simple concept from Marketing 101: differentiation. Whether selling cars, refrigerators or politics, “position” your product to emphasize the difference with your competition.

Like a good suspense novel, conflict sells.

That’s great for selling cars. Not so good for solving problems.

Yes, we are divided on a number of issues: abortion, immigration, gun control and changing social norms to name the obvious. Yet like the car rental agent, the purveyors sow the seeds of division to reap the harvest of special interests. For in the cynical world of politics, the best ideas do not win. The well-heeled agenda of special interests wins.

Difficult problems requiring complex solutions become simplistic slogans that offer only false “either/ or” choices. The choice between gun control and gun rights rejects achievable compromise. The choice between pro-choice and pro-life neglects the shared goal of preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Serious questions deserve serious answers not found at the extremes of the political spectrum.

The real divide in our country exists between the haves and have-nots; or more particularly, between the have-lots and have-nots. Now there’s a real difference. The wealthiest “1 percenters” now own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, creating a chasm of inequality that the wealthy are more than happy to frame as political rather than economic.

Mike McCabe, candidate for Wisconsin governor, speaks of the vertical economic divide in our country rather than the horizontal political divide.

“We’ve grown used to thinking about who’s on the left and who’s on the right. A magical thing happens when you think instead of who’s on top and who’s on the bottom. Thinking horizontally divides people who could and should be united. Thinking vertically makes it possible to see that people who we think are enemies actually have much in common.”

Naivety lies not in the belief we can all agree. We can’t. Our gullibility lies in the belief that our political parties can mediate our disagreements and shed some sunlight on our common values.

On a bright sun-drenched day in Florida, an eclectic collection of liberals, conservatives, science nerds, science novices — a cross section of humanity — eagerly await the Falcon Heavy Lift launch. Hearing the flight controller’s “SpaceX Falcon Heavy: go for launch,” an expectant cheer rises from the thousands gathered at the Kennedy Space Center.

“Five, four, three, two, one, ignition” the crowd chants in unison with the voice of mission control. The rocket leaps into the sky, rising over the Atlantic Ocean, riding a 400-foot tail of fire, like an acetylene torch cutting open the heavens.

We are cheering, shouting, pumping our arms in a triumph of human ingenuity over any and all challenges. In the clear sky, the Falcon can be seen for miles down range, rising to space and lifting our spirits.

Why is it only in times of triumph and in times of tragedy that we strip away the thin veneer of our contradictions and discover our common humanity; which, in our shared interests of survival, exist in all times?

I purchased car insurance that I did not need. I purchased the adversarial myth of our political system that does not work. I’m not buying it anymore.

Eric Frydenlund is a columnist who lives in Prairie du Chien and writes about nature, politics and social issues from a systems perspective.


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