A lot of Americans are sick of political in-fighting and dread to turn on the news. To say the current political situation is a circus would be appropriate only if you’re referring to a circus where all the clowns are terrifying and the acrobats are shoved off the high-wire onto the ground.

What’s happening now isn’t funny. Even those who’ve been around a long time can’t remember when Americans have been so divided. Today, just getting together with close relatives and old friends can be tricky. No matter what side you’re on, there’s an impulse to say to those on the other side, “Are you crazy?”

A better question would be: Why are we so divided when we live in the same country and have the opportunity to hear the same news reports?

Ah, that’s where it gets complicated. What’s broadcast and printed is hand-picked by each medium and they all profit from drama. In the Donald Trump era, drama isn’t hard to find and not necessary to create. But some skew it and refuse to report what they don’t want their readers or viewers to know.

Talk shows, which don’t qualify as news, are the worst offenders. Most of them exist just to reinforce their viewers’ opinions, even if that means lying or avoiding facts. Their guests back up their agendas, and if viewers don’t question the information, they’re likely to remain unaware of what’s really happening and who’s telling the truth.

Then there’s social media where like-minded people float in a bubble and exchange links to articles or other sources that support their opinions. Friends end up being blocked or “unfriended” if they strongly state differing political views. And since Facebook is refusing to remove political ads that contain lies, it’s only going to get worse.

Those are good reasons to explore several media options so we’re exposed to verifiable facts and all points of view. As adults, we should welcome those choices and be happy we have the intelligence to determine which ones are the least biased and the most comprehensive and truthful. Using that knowledge, we can then demand solid examples from anyone who claims the media delivers “fake news.” If they can’t, or won’t, answer, we can assume they’re just trying to fool their listeners into believing lies and avoiding truth.

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In times like these, we should be able to depend on our country’s leaders to work toward uniting us. That’s not happening. Even though many Republican lawmakers are sick of the president’s lies and antics, they’re terrified to offend him and his base, so they remain silent.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers are focused on the impeachment inquiry although, in direct contradiction to the president’s accusation that they’ve done nothing, they’ve passed hundreds of bills in the House that are now sitting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk because he refuses to bring them to the Senate floor for a vote.

Democrats are also focused on the 2020 election and their candidates. One of the candidates emphasizing unity is Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He isn’t pitting the rich against the poor and the middle-class. Instead, he has faith that all of us can work together to solve problems we face in the areas of health care; fair wages and taxation; a changing climate; infrastructure and other issues that concern most Americans.

The biggest divider is the president who routinely does and says things that tear us apart rather than unite us. He even attacks Republicans who question him and recently called them “human scum.” You’d think a man of his age, and supposed education, would have the ability and maturity to express displeasure in ways that don’t include calling people the kind of names used by schoolyard bullies. Then again, by now, who’s surprised?

But if the president and many of our lawmakers aren’t going to try and unite us, who will? Maybe we could look in the mirror and ask ourselves a few questions.

Are we honestly and actively trying to see all sides? Do we check the truthfulness of politicians’ claims on unbiased fact-checking sites like Politifact? Do we leave our social media bubble and talk to people who disagree with our political views and try to find common ground? Do we spend equal time watching different news networks, listening to different radio talk shows and reading print articles that cover all sides?

If we don’t, then the person in the mirror is a huge part of the problem. But if we have the courage to look at both sides, and the intelligence and persistence to determine what’s true and what isn’t, then we may decide we aren’t that divided after all.

Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at patnash5149@gmail.com.

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