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A Nation Divided?

CBS Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley
The Truth Network Radio
September 3, 2023 2:32 pm

A Nation Divided?

CBS Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley

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September 3, 2023 2:32 pm

In a rebroadcast of our special Emmy Award-nominated broadcast, "A Nation Divided?," Ted Koppel explores the ways in which America has drifted apart, and how we can still come together. Stories include: Why some Oregonians want to move the border to become part of Idaho; a visit to Teton County, Wyoming, home to the widest income divide in America; conversations with musician-activist John Legend, and TV producer Norman Lear; an examination of why blue collar jobs are stigmatized; a look back on our country's violent political history; the polarization generated by talk radio, and the corrosive effects of social media; and a workshop held by Braver Angels, a non-profit aimed at bringing Red and Blue Americans together.

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Jane Pauley is off enjoying this Labor Day weekend. I'm Ted Koppel, and this is a special edition of Sunday Morning. When we first brought you this program almost a year ago, we posed the question, are we a nation divided?

That already seems sadly outdated. Are we divided? Of course we are.

When a former President of the United States is facing four criminal indictments at the same time that he remains a runaway favorite to be nominated by the Republican Party as its candidate to be the next President of the United States, the one thing you can say without fear of contradiction is that on this subject at least, we are a nation divided. So, is that it, Ted? Are you suggesting that we settle in from 90 minutes of gloom and doom?

Absolutely not. This is, after all, Sunday Morning, a program that many of you have come to love over the years precisely because it revels in America's diversity and good humor. Indeed, even in the worst of times, what has saved us from slipping entirely over the edge has been that American sense of humor, our ability to laugh at ourselves. And more than 50 years ago, this guy, Archie Bunker, walked the razor's edge into tens of millions of American homes.

In their own separate sections, where they feel safe and they bust your head if you go in there. That's what makes America great, buddy. Producer Norman Lear was the man who created Archie Bunker and All in the Family and other hit shows like The Jeffersons and Maude. He had just turned 100 when I spoke with him and the good news is that he recently turned 101. He is still at work, still pushing the envelope. You're going to piss a lot of people off, Norman.

You know that. Wouldn't it be interesting? I am determined to find out. For all the progress we've made in race relations, and we really have, it continues to be a flashpoint.

The subject of my conversation with singer-songwriter John Legend. I wish I knew how it would feel to be free. I feel like black people have been patriotic in this country. We've been forgiving in this country. We fought for the ideals that the nation said we were founded on. We've done that for centuries. And I think we've believed in America more than America believed in us or believed in itself. Lee Cowan reports on a part of the country where the tension between conservatives and progressives has taken on a particularly interesting form.

A conservative slice of organ that wants to move lock, stock, and barrel into Idaho. And that movement has only grown over the past year. Our system is set up on a majority rules. I'm in agreement with that, but at a particular point when the majority becomes a supermajority, then one side is negated. And that's how you feel.

We are negated here. From John Dickerson, we'll hear that a divided America is actually as old as America itself. Ben Tracy takes us to Wyoming, where the very rich are so rich that the not so rich can barely afford to live there. David Pogue finds out why some of us go off the rails when we go online. Plus Martha Teichner in search of common ground. Commentary from retired Army General Stanley McChrystal. And we'll take time out to remember the great Jimmy Buffet. This is a special edition of Sunday Morning, and we'll be back after this. The campaign in Oregon to move part of the state into Idaho has been gaining momentum, so much so that Lee Cowan went back to bring us this update. This is 1863. Mike McCarter. He knows his American history.

Well guys, let's go ahead and get started here. Almost as well as he knows his Bible. Dear Father, we just thank you for this time. His family has lived and worshiped here in Oregon for four generations. The only time I lived out of the state was during the Vietnam War when I was in the military.

But his Oregon might not be the Oregon you're thinking of. The one with the misty, rugged coastline, Pinot Noir wineries, and its loyally blue politics. Nope, this is the red side of Oregon, the rural and more sparsely populated part.

Mike lives in the town of Lapine. It's almost like the Grand Canyon goes right along the Cascade Range. It's a big a divide. It is a big divide. What that means politically, he says, is the blue part of western Oregon always outweighs the eastern part's red. In talking to a legislator over in the Portland area, I said, the legislature doesn't listen to our people, our representatives over here. He said, whoa, whoa, whoa, stop Mike. We hear what they're saying.

We just outvote you. So McCarter decided to look for greener pastures, or in this case, at least ones a little more red. This would be Oregon, and that across the river would be Idaho. We met him along the banks of the Klamath River last August while he was spearheading a campaign called Move Oregon's Border. The group had been busy introducing ballot measures all across the state, asking voters about the idea of pushing the urban blue bits of Oregon into a smaller but still populous state, and then taking the rural red parts and creating what would be part of a more expansive Idaho.

When you have a government that won't listen to the opposition or take into account those of us that live out here, then we have no government representation. Eastern Oregonians like Sandy Gilson quickly jumped on board. This town is about 200.

She owns a real estate business in rural John Day, Oregon, a community more closely aligned to Boise, Idaho than it is to Portland, Oregon, in virtually every way. Are you optimistic that you've got a chance? I look at it that the American Revolution was a big hurdle to make, and they did it. Does it feel like things are a little closer than they were? It absolutely does. It's been a year since we visited, so we decided to go back to Oregon to see just where things stood now.

We asked these counties, how do you feel about it? And you didn't know at the time. No.

And now you do. Yes. Back then, nine counties had voted in favor of considering making eastern Oregon part of Idaho. Well, now that number is up to 12, with another county set to vote this coming May. We're getting into people's heads about this. The pendulum is starting to swing.

It is. As for Idaho itself, well, it's at least open to discussions. This past spring, Idaho's state representatives approved a measure to begin a dialogue with Oregon over whether and how to redraw their common boundary. But so far, Mike says, Oregon is playing hard to get, at least in public. And we've heard back from behind the scenes that, wait a minute, if we fund a bridge in eastern Oregon, why would we do that if it's going to become Idaho?

But the opposition has swung into gear, too. Moving Oregon's border, we just can't afford it. A Portland nonprofit called Western State Center is branding the move a radical change, comparing it to Oregon's past white nationalist hate groups. Why are violent extremists pushing for secession?

Their message? If rural conservatives don't like Oregon's urban liberal leanings, well, don't move the border, move themselves instead. We're not running away from the problem. We're not going to run away and move to Idaho. We're going to deal with the problem right here and now.

There are a lot of details still to be ironed out, and the devil is in every one of them. Not to mention the fact that actually changing the border would require both Oregon and Idaho to agree, and then they would need to be approved by the U.S. Congress. I don't think that we should act like state lines are written in stone.

We should look at them and say, does this actually make sense? Author Richard Kreitner, who wrote a book about secession and division, says it's hardly a new idea. Secession has always been there. You know, Catholics lived in Maryland, debtors lived in Georgia, you know, Puritans lived in New England.

They were kind of separate to begin with, and that's why they wanted nothing to do with one another. So it's really woven into our DNA. Absolutely. There's nothing sacred about Oregon. There's nothing sacred about Delaware or my native New Jersey, in my opinion. You know, these are just kind of inherited forms. Did you ever imagine, though, you'd be involved in a movement like this, though?

No. Mike McCarter will be the first to tell you that moving Oregon's border is radical. But he says if we've learned anything about our politics in the last several years, it's that conventional seems so yesterday. I mean, as fast as things are changing in this country right now, why can't we? Why can't people still have the right to vote for who governs them? Here's a thought to ponder this Labor Day weekend for those with kids in high school.

Send them off to college or have them learn a trade. The answer is not as clear-cut as you may think. Have a seat. You and I are sitting on and next to the most used piece of equipment.

I think some of the biggest decisions were made on one of these. That's Julius Wright sitting on the other toilet seat. He's a master plumber and an instructor. Prepare for the worst, and if you walk out on the best, you're good. At the training facility for the Plumbers and Gas Fitters Union, Local 5 in Lanham, Maryland.

It's just you and a snake. As we saw last summer, here young men and women go through a five-year apprenticeship learning the trade before they can call themselves licensed plumbers. I was one of those kids that knew I wasn't going to college. It's crazy because there's a five-year apprenticeship in college that's four years.

Yeah, I mean, it's not easy. You're coming here, but… Here you don't have loans that you have to pay back. You're getting paid. You're getting paid to learn a trade.

Learning here and assisting a licensed plumber on the job, an apprentice can make up to $77,000 a year. Even so, says Brandon McGroskey, the work carries a certain stigma. Growing up, my parents would see something at that and say, oh, go to school so you don't end up like them. Well, great pay, great benefits.

I'm not doing bad. But normal people still look down on us. Why do you say normal people?

The regular everyday people, the people that work 9 to 5 in an office. We get dirty, we get smelly, we get covered in all sorts of muck. It's just what we do. The division is partly a function of people thinking that because the work is dirty, it must be stupid. If people never attempted skilled manual work, they may not understand just how intellectually rich and engaging it can be and demanding. To describe Matthew Crawford as a mechanic with a PhD in philosophy is a little glib, but it's also true. I was the director of a think tank, and I quit that job to open a motorcycle repair shop.

Because? Well, the think tank work, essentially we started with a set of conclusions, the ones that our donors wanted, and then worked backward to a set of premises that could get us to the conclusions. Whereas if you're trying to figure out why a bike doesn't start and run right, you can't weasel your way out of it not starting and running right.

And Crawford reminds us there are 43 million Americans carrying a student loan debt averaging somewhere north of $37,000. The trades, meanwhile, provide more than just a good living. What distinguishes the skilled trades, I think, is that you're always using your own judgment. The physical circumstances in which a plumber does work or an electrician, that you're never simply following a set of instructions. You always have to get a handle on some novel situation and diagnose it. We do work with our hands a lot, but a lot of it's up here, and people don't really appreciate that. People think it's simple to fix a toilet, and they think it's simple to weld pipe.

That's local five apprentice Jack Teese. Guy I work with says art without an audience. I like that. Art without an audience.

I say that to the former Alzheimer's. Artwork without an audience. What do you think is causing the divisions in this country today? Ignorance.

This is an opportunity to do... Toria, call him T, Smalls is business manager of local five. That stigma, that myth, that people that are in trades did trades because they couldn't do anything else. Not understanding that the guy that engineered the highways is a trade guy. The guy that engineered the IT services that get you your internet is a trade-based guy.

In the old days, a union man was a Democrat. Always. Yeah.

Through and through. Yeah. Not anymore.

No, not anymore. Because? You put trust in politicians, they'll break your heart.

You know? At the union level, I think they always say to vote Democrat, but if you talk to people out in the field, most of them are very conservative in their values. When you come to work, as long as we're getting work done, you can believe whatever you want. I work with all different type of people. You're looking at three master plumbers.

Jonas Bonilla, Mary Sims, Renika Dix. Do they enjoy perfect racial and gender equality? Not quite, but they do get the same pay. The pay scale is even, but I think it wouldn't be that way if it weren't union. That's not the way it is out in the world. No.

Women make less than men do. Yes. Significantly less. Yes. So, one more for the union, right?

There you go. I feel like if people aren't transparent with what the real wages are for these industries, that stigma has pushed down and pushed the vocational trades out of the schools when, in reality, we need those trades. A lot of the divisions in America today seem rooted in the perception that some white collar workers and many college graduates have about themselves relative to the tradespeople who keep their homes and their cars and their utilities functioning. That illusion contributes to the contempt that many people feel for the working class.

So, to my mind, a lot of that division in the country is facilitated by a lack of acquaintance with the kind of work that others are doing for those of us who are free of it ourselves. Do you mind my asking what you take home in a year? Over 100 grand. Over $100,000. It's a modest answer.

Julius makes way over $100,000. You got a house? Yeah, I have two houses.

I have two houses. Why do you think people still have such a strange outlook toward the working man and woman? Man, if I could answer that. I feel my opinion is people need to have a certain status or feel they're in a certain class group over someone else. And you think going to college gives people that sense of, I'm a little better than you are? Yes, because I'm educated. They don't think we're educated. What the pandemic taught us was that we're essential.

When they were locked in the house and this doesn't work, who do you call? The uneducated plumber, right? So now, who's winning?

The college or the trade? In 1858, Abe Lincoln, running for the U.S. Senate, gave a campaign speech in which he said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. For the record, he lost that election. As John Dickerson reminds us, we have been deeply divided before. These are objects from both the deep history of American democracy and recent events, from elections, protests, what have you. And you start to see techniques and devices reappear over time.

These things kind of rhyme with each other, and these objects almost talk to each other across different periods. At the Smithsonian Institution, historian John Grinspan is a curator in charge of that part of the nation's attic that holds the objects of American democracy and politics. I call this the fossil record, that just as the Smithsonian is known for its dinosaurs, these are the fossils of democracy. Grinspan is also an author who was working on his latest book about the violence in American politics at the end of the 19th century.

The way you organize a campaign is you get torches, you wait till midnight, and you march through downtown. When his work started to feel increasingly like a study of our own time. When you were writing about these themes from the late 19th century, you were also seeing it out your window in American democracy at that present moment. Seeing these things from our past, these really ugly trends that I thought we'd put away, be kind of reverse engineered and come back, it's eerie.

It's too relevant all of a sudden. To Grinspan, torches carried six years ago by white supremacists recall torches carried by advocates of the opposite position, anti-slavery marchers of the 1860s, the white awakes. After the Civil War, blacks were attacked for exercising their newfound right to vote. Opponents of immigration questioned what it meant to be a real American.

The recession of 1873 was followed by a hotly contested presidential election. Whether it's 150 years ago or today, when political affiliations become so closely associated with people's identities, conflict is no longer about ideas, it's personal. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that growing shares in each party now describe those in the other party as more closed-minded, dishonest, immoral, and unintelligent, just like in the 19th century.

Is that basically the most important distinction for us to pay attention to, which is not the strength of your beliefs, but the strength of your fear of the other side? When American politics is at its ugliest, there's a sense among perpetrators of violence that the other side should not be participating, has no right to be engaged. To bring us back from the brink today, Grinspan suggests we look at how 19th century leaders cooled the passions of their times. How did they do it in a system that was rewarding acrimony? One of the things that drives this is that there's always a sense that a certain class of politicians should be removed from the ugliness of politics, that presidents in particular are supposed to be kind of like a friendly national grandfather. So there was a wall between the politics and the presidency, and that wall has been eroded. What's fascinating from a historian's perspective is to see how many things that seem set, that seemed like the norms of democracy, are just because people follow them until they don't. How do we survive this period where it seems only to be escalating towards something dangerous? That's a fundamental question. I mean, there's a big transition from a political system that's deeply public and fought out in the public square to one that's private, where you don't talk about politics at the dinner table, and the sense that restraint is the key value in democracy.

And it sounds too easy, you say restraint and it works, but if you say something enough in the culture, that's how you make change. It's a special edition of Sunday Morning, and here again is Ted Koppel. A superstar with a social conscience, for real? Well, judge for yourself as we spend a few minutes with John Legend. John Legend most definitely qualifies as a superstar. Two Emmys, 12 Grammys, one Oscar, and a Tony. The accomplishment is so rare it merits a word of its own. Legend is an EGOT. Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony. He's also a social activist, and sometimes he blends the two, as when he and the rapper Common recorded this song, Glory, which Legend and Common co-wrote for the film Selma. Academy Award Best Original Song 2015, and this was Legend accepting the Oscar.

We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now. Mass incarceration, that was Legend's first target for social change. You spent a lot of time focusing on penal reform in this country, prison reform.

Yes. Why? That's part of me not forgetting where I come from and remembering how the criminal punishment system has affected so many people in my family, people in my neighborhood. I know so many personal stories of people who have been affected by it, families who have been affected by it, and then as I grew older, it grew beyond what was personal to me and personal to the people around me, and I began to understand more holistically in the nation what we've done over the past few decades. We've become the most incarcerated country in the world, and it's been costly in so many ways. I've been spending the last decade or so fighting to change that.

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free. African Americans are incarcerated at a rate more than five times that of white Americans. And across all races, when it comes to prison population among industrialized countries, we're number one. Why do you think we have so many people incarcerated in this country? As you pointed out, we have more prisoners in America than any other country in the world.

Well, I think a lot of it starts with our original sin. Slavery, I think, has a lot to do with it. The 13th Amendment, of course, outlawed slavery except for people who were in the penal system. I think you were referring to prison labor, too, right?

Absolutely, because the 13th Amendment made it illegal to force people to do labor except if they were convicted of a crime. I think you know there are a great many people who are worried about the fact that this country is moving and will have moved in the next 10, 15 years or so to a point where there are more people of color in this country than there are white people. You think they need to be worried? What I want them to realize is that equality doesn't have to take from anybody. Us all having equal rights, us having human dignity, having a community that's healthier and stronger for everyone doesn't need to hurt anybody. If you see everything as a zero-sum game, yes, you might be worried that there are going to be more people of color than there are white people. That means if you're white, you're going to start losing something, but that only means that if people of color decide that they're going to do to white people what white people have been doing to people of color for the past several centuries.

Not perhaps what a Hollywood or Madison Avenue PR person would have drafted for him, but legend doesn't mince words on the subject of racial equity in a TV interview or with his tens of millions of followers on social media. We can live in a society where we all respect each other's human dignity, build a community that's stronger for everybody, safer for everybody, healthier for everybody. We don't need to believe that just because there's more of one group or another that somebody else has to lose because of that. That's a beautiful expression, and I hope you're right.

I don't know if it's going to win the day, but that's what we should believe. If I had been born black in this country, I'm not sure if I could find that reservoir of compassion that you're talking about. Well, I feel like black people have been patriotic in this country. We've been forgiving in this country. We've fought for the ideals that the nation said we were founded on. We've done that for centuries, and I think we've believed in America more than America believed in us or believed in itself.

But yeah, I think we have an interest in fighting for a stronger democracy, a more empathetic community. It'll make our lives better, but it'll make everyone's lives better, too. Here's a lovely line about averages. Take a man and put one of his feet in a bucket of ice and the other in a bucket of boiling water, and on average, he's comfortable. On average, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is a really comfortable place to live.

But as Ben Tracy found, it does help if you have a lot of money. Jackson, Wyoming, is often called the last of the Old West. Its cowboy culture runs so deep, it even rides along on the morning cup of coffee. And while some of the best things in life here may be free, you pay a steep price to live in this valley known as Jackson Hole. I love this community, and I love the place where I live, but there is always that question in the back of your mind of, are you going to be able to survive here? Elizabeth Hutchings moved here from Massachusetts in 2018. For the first seven months, the only place she could afford to live was in her van. Between living in your van, your car, and various apartments, how many places have you lived here in four years? Eight or nine?

Eight or nine. And in a lot of places, there's been that question of, oh, this is home, but for how long? Teton County is now home to a divide bigger than those mountains for which it's named. It is the wealthiest and most unequal in America. The average income here is $318,000, and the average single-family home price is now more than $5.5 million. That's left a food pantry overwhelmed by demand, staring at $6 million townhomes rising across the street.

The level of wealth you see and the level of disparity that you see, I mean, some people have more money you could spend in 10 lifetimes. There's a saying in town that you either have three homes or three jobs. Many workers have been forced to cheaper towns nearly 40 miles away over sometimes treacherous roads.

Hutchings works at a local restaurant. And when we met last summer, she shared this basement apartment with a roommate. Since then, she's had to move again.

If you're spending so much of your time driving or so much of your time working just trying to survive, I think everybody has that question of, is it worth it? This area here is actually one of the holdovers in town that I imagine in five years even will look very different. Yale School of the Environment professor Justin Farrell grew up in Wyoming and is author of the book, Billionaire Wilderness. He says the middle class here has been completely hollowed out. Inequality is an issue playing out across the country. Is it uniquely bad here? It is uniquely bad, actually.

It's nation-leading bad. If you're making $40,000, $50,000, $60,000, you're likely living in your car or you're living 45 minutes away. For most people, it's becoming unlivable. The reason, he says, is that the ultra wealthy find Teton County very livable. Their arrival here accelerated during COVID. The desire for multi-million dollar mountain escapes has created a new land rush. Americans have always looked West. It's always been the lodestar of American identity.

And probably Jackson Hole with the cowboy image and the Tetons, it's, I think, what makes it so special for so many people. On top of that, it's functionally a tax haven. So Wyoming does not have a state income tax.

It does not have a corporate tax. So it's a really great place to park your money legally. All that wealth is cleverly disguised behind a facade of pickup trucks and jeans. It's almost as if the landmark watering hole, the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, knew what was coming. This place is really unique because it allows people to engage in this personal transformation to become a normal person. They rely on the Western stereotypes to do that. And so you have these millionaires, even billionaires, dressing in Wrangler jeans, dressing down, trying to avoid any sort of class indicators that might make them look wealthy. And I think it's really well-intentioned. Phil Hartl is a private wealth advisor who moved here from high-tax California. Good girl.

He and his wife Monica relocated to Jackson in late 2020. It was really about living in a different kind of place and really being closer to nature. And so it's tremendous to be a part of that. I get a sense that you really do have a respect for the place. And I don't want this to sound rude, but I assume you're aware that some people here think you're part of the problem. Oh, of course. Absolutely.

How does that feel? It's my responsibility to show them that, you know, I understand that we came here more recently. We're COVID babies, right? But at the same time, if you approach it with a regard and a respect and a listening, and at the end of the day, like anywhere, they judge you as an individual, what kind of person you are.

Hartl says he's planning to donate a third of his tax savings to local nonprofits and charities. Teton County is one of the most philanthropic communities in America. Am I part of the problem? Sure, I am. You know, I'm one of the people that came in who was able to buy a house at a marked-up price.

And I'm very grateful for that. But again, I also see that I have an obligation as a result. For Elizabeth Hutchings, she says she just wants to make sure people like her, the horsepower that keeps this cowboy town running, can also call it home. If we don't find a way to create a more equitable society and to support people with housing and human services, you won't have an economy. You won't have dozens of nice restaurants to eat at. Do you look down the road and do you see yourself here in 10 years?

I don't care if I'm here in 10 years, but I want other people to have a better quality of life in 10 years. The Internet can have the most extraordinary impact on the most mild-mannered people. David Pogue looks at our digital divide. Maybe you've noticed something very strange can happen when we go online. We become totally different people.

So there is a Jekyll and Hyde thing happening. Oh, most definitely. Most definitely.

Paul Vigiano can tell you from experience. Well, it was election night 2020 and I was on Facebook and it got spicier as the face got redder and the rage was building. I think I may have actually said, you're an idiot. To someone you know?

Yes. On the great scale, that was pretty mild. But for me it wasn't. I mean, for me it was pretty rough. And now you actually teach communications. That's the embarrassing part. One of the classes I teach is interpersonal communication.

Really? My specialist area is forensic cyber psychology, which is a study of criminal deviant and abnormal behavior. And I'm kept really busy. Consultant and psychologist Mary Aiken cites four ways that online conversation differs from in-person conversation. First, you can see each other in real life. So I'm looking at your visual cues. I can read.

I can read your body language. We lose all of that online. Second, online exchanges may not take place in real time. Somebody posts something, somebody else comes back later, things can get misinterpreted. Third, most online discussions are public. If I insult you now, then it increases the shame and the humiliation and the feeling of being targeted. Finally, online anonymity means no repercussions for being nasty. Add all this together and you get what psychologists call the online disinhibition effect. And effectively, it dictates that people will do things online that they wouldn't do in the real world. That online effect can affect real world relationships.

Sometimes you have to speak truth to stupid. And that's usually what starts it. Do you fire back in kind when it gets to that level?

Depending on my mood, I just poke the bear just to see where it's going to go. Robin has been there. She asked us not to use her last name. Have you ever cut off ties with people that you knew online? I have. I have. Some of them were friends.

I've had family that has unfriended me because of politics. But Mary Aiken's latest report indicates that new artificial intelligence filters may soon help. We found evidence of an emerging billion dollar sector dedicated to finding technology solutions. We could probably also recognize that never in the history of the internet has anyone's mind ever been changed by being yelled at. No.

No. That is true. Paul Vigiano knows that another election is coming soon. He plans to play this one differently. I'm trying to separate the person from the idea. So my mantra has been hate the idea, but don't hate the person.

So I'm hoping I get to that point by then. Just see the name Jimmy Buffett. You felt as though you had a drink in your hand and sand between your toes. Millions of us felt as though we knew Jimmy Buffett.

Bill Flanagan really did. Jimmy Buffett was a good friend of mine and I was not the only one. Jimmy had friends all over the world, from Savannah to Havana, from Mali to Bali. He was a pilot and a sailor, a traveling man who felt at home in a fleabag in Timbuktu, or a five-star hotel in Paris. Jimmy was equally comfortable in the company of philosophers and pirates, maybe because he was a bit of both.

I don't think I ever knew anyone with more positive life force. Even when he was in treatment for cancer this last year, Jimmy would come out of the hospital and instead of resting like he was supposed to, he would jump on one of his planes and fly across the country to play a show. He got something out of his audience that was better than medicine. He started out playing bars in New Orleans and working as a journalist, and in his songwriting, he combined those two vocations. He specialized in writing about misfits and shady characters.

Folks who did not fit into conventional society. Jimmy was allergic to taking himself seriously. He said his audience worked hard all week. He owed them a two-hour vacation. Jimmy said he started his first Margaritaville restaurant and bar in Key West because he figured if he owned his own saloon, he'd always have a place to play. It was a fallback in case his musical career fizzled out. Jimmy Buffett was the most positive person I ever knew. Everything was an adventure, and if the adventure went sideways, well, we'd come home with a good story. In his final days, he assured his friends he'd be back on his feet in a couple of weeks.

Jimmy Buffett spent his life putting joy into the world. Bubbles up, Captain. You're going home. What's the matter with this? I call this representative government. It's Salvatore, Feldman, O'Reilly, Nelson. It's an Italian, a Jew, an Irishman, and a regular American. America owes Norman Lear a bucketful of laughs. He and I spoke just after his 100th birthday last year.

And as I mentioned earlier, he recently turned 101. Welcome to I Love Liberty. This root-and-toot-and flag-waving celebration of America was produced in 1982, less than 10 years after the end of the Vietnam War, a war that nearly tore this country apart. I love liberty.

It is as blissful a memory as I have. That's Norman Lear, arguably the most successful producer of situation comedies in television. Norman has always been committed to the promotion of free speech. Indeed, his political action group, People for the American Way, produced this special. Somehow Norman even found a way to have the late John Wayne, who supported the war, and Jane Fonda, who very publicly opposed it, kind of sort of make nice on nationwide TV.

I think that she's a little mixed up in her thinking, and I guess she feels the same about me. That's our right as Americans. I'm glad to live in a country where people are free to disagree.

Even if it's me, some of them disagree with. A little lukewarm, but as symbols of national reconciliation go, not bad. Could you run that same special today? Oh, I am determined to find out. Norman Lear, you probably heard, turned 100 last year. And when he talks about producing television specials now, he is not, I promise you, kidding. Half a dozen are in the works.

We will be making, what, 10 episodes of one of the shows. That's good. I love it. I love it.

I love it more. Boy, the way Glenn Miller plays. In his heyday, let's say 40 or 50 years ago, situation comedies, the big ones, drew tens of millions of viewers. Norman produced a bunch of those. Here's one he's thinking of redoing. I'm pregnant.

Anything but an easy layup. Norman Lear is considering recasting and reproducing one of the most controversial sitcom episodes of all time. You're kidding. That episode of Maude was broadcast 50 years ago. A 47-year-old woman who fears that she and her husband may be too old to have another child. It's legal in New York now.

And she's considering an abortion. We finally have the right to decide what we can do with our own bodies. All right, then will you please get yours into the kitchen? You're going to piss a lot of people off, Norman. You know that.

Wouldn't it be interesting? Because I wouldn't change a word. The last moment of that show is something I remember as clearly as anything I ever had anything to do with. Just tell me, Walter, that I'm doing the right thing, not having the baby. And his response was, in the privacy of our lives, you're doing the right thing.

In the privacy of our own lives, you're doing the right thing. CBS got thousands of letters. What do you think will happen this time around?

They'd get tens of thousands. And then, of course, there was Archer. I know what Dr. Feinberg said. Feinstein. Feinstein, Feinberg, it all comes to the same thing.

And I know that tribe. What made Archie Bunker so relatable was the likelihood that somewhere, at work, at the hairdresser, around the Thanksgiving table... If you liberals go on, get in your way, we're all going to hear one big loud flush.

That's the sound of the USA going down the chalice. A friendly family had or knew someone like an Archie who made us cringe. Who are you calling you people? You people are you people. Even as we stifled a laugh. You always manage to make us laugh, Norman, about the most dangerous things. Racism, hatred, bigotry.

Can you make us laugh today? If I were doing it today, I would have a 13-year-old daughter who represents everything I care about and is a pain in the ass talking about it in her brilliance and feelings about America. She would just at 13 know a lot about the foolishness of the human condition and recognize problems that her parents are living with that even they are not facing.

I have all the faith in the world in your creativity, but you're putting a lot on those slender shoulders that 13-year-olds got a lot to carry. She isn't going to get us out of this mess, but she's going to help. We are more sensitive today about not doing things that would offend gay people. We are more sensitive today about not doing things that offend women or others of minority groups. That has to be a good thing. You say we have to be more sensitive today.

You think we're not. I'm not sure I agree with that. Every office now has a department of someone who is there to make sure that others in the department don't go around offending one another. We didn't have that 50 years ago. Is that a good thing?

Oh my God. My sense is there's something wrong that we're living in a culture where that has to exist. That there is a role for a person to make sure that other people are being decent humans. It says something about the culture we live in. I'm getting the impression that what you're saying is we shouldn't need a department to make us be nice to one another. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. But your vehicle for getting us there has always been the ability to make us laugh at ourselves.

The foolishness of the human condition. You're still going to do that. I pray so. Tens of millions of Americans get their political marching orders on the radio. Jim Axelrod has been listening in. Trump won, OK? And Biden's illegitimate.

And you're just going to have to live with it, OK? Across America, the message is loud and clear. Teachers in Florida are facing the religious tyranny of Ron DeSantis, this Christian terrorist. 35 years after the talk radio revolution on the air is still often an exercise in off the rails. You know, that guy had like that that super white hair.

He looked like a character in Ozark. The guy's turning into a dictator right in front of your eyes. Brian Rosenwald is an industry expert. What's the nature of talk radio? Is it any different than it's been the last two or three decades?

If anything, Jim, I think it's more extreme. Following the repeal of the fairness doctrine in 1987, broadcasters were no longer required to present both sides of controversial political issues. There's simply no way Joe Biden was legitimately elected president. Which ushered in Rush Limbaugh's polarizing and immensely popular style that attracted 15 million listeners a week who felt dominant media outlets had a liberal bias. And I think over that long span, it has unquestionably divided Americans. It has unquestionably hardened our politics. If Democrats can't rob you, the next best thing is to convince you that you are being robbed. And how is that good for America? It's not. It's bad for America. We're facing a cultural crisis in this country.

Michael Harrison is the publisher of Talkers magazine, the industry Bible. If we could have on the liberal side what we have on the conservative side, the talk radio industry would be better, free speech would be better served, and the nation would be better served. It's not that liberals haven't mounted a counter-attack.

They just chose another battlefield. So why is there never a liberal Rush Limbaugh? Well, I think they've gone into other areas. I think Jon Stewart has been every bit of a trailblazer as Rush Limbaugh was. And he happened to colonize late night comedy. Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, most of the late night comics leaned left at this point. Which is why more than three decades after Limbaugh weaponized talk radio for the right, liberals remained outmanned and outgunned. On the list of Talkers magazine top ten most popular talk radio hosts, all ten are conservative. While the vitriol flows in both directions these days on commercial radio, the one part of the dial that is liberal turf, public radio attracts big numbers, though it's relatively restrained compared to the intense competition for listeners on commercial radio that's creating ever more extreme approaches to attracting listeners.

CRT, bathrooms that anybody can use. If you're hoping for any change in this dynamic, don't. Talk radio is now a mature business with those running it less willing to gamble on something like nuance. I think right now it's have a take and don't suck. Because the only color that seems to matter more than red and blue in our divided America is green. What is the mission of talk radio?

Is it to generate light or heat? The mission of talk radio is to generate ratings and revenue. So what's the answer? How about putting old and young, rich and poor, conservatives and liberals in the same room and just have them talk it out?

Which is to say, try something, anything. Here's Martha Tushner. Angry Trump supporters demanded entry to a ballot processing center in Detroit today. Michigan is a battleground state in every sense of the word. Here, purple doesn't mean moderate. It means the 50-50 red-blue split is a chasm. Traumatic concern for our country and our democracy. That concern is why these people gathered on a Saturday afternoon in Traverse City, Michigan. Half of them red, the other half blue, brought together by Braver Angels, a not-for-profit attempting to narrow the divide. And I'm here just to help people understand the point of view of those in the red column. I'm concerned that the polarization has become paralysis.

Started in 2016, Braver Angels now holds sessions nationwide. I'm going to start out with some expectations to abandon. It was shaped by Bill Doherty, who teaches relationships at the University of Minnesota. He's also a marriage counselor. Is it a proper analogy of reds and blues in America and couples on the brink of divorce? There is an analogy to couples on the brink.

A big difference is that divorce is not possible in America. In Traverse City, participants arrived uneasy at first, defensive. It was difficult to get in the car and drive there, but I knew I had to do it. To get over her fear of the other side, after what happened in January 2021, when Kelly McIntosh addressed a virtual county commission meeting, asking commissioners to denounce the Proud Boys after the violence of January 6th. This was the response. Then came the threatening phone calls.

Anybody who knows me knows that I need to be here. Task number one at a red-blue workshop? For all Marxists or communists, anti-Second Amendment, baby killers. It sounds counterintuitive. List what they call you. The stereotypes.

Reds and blues in separate rooms. The moribles. The misogynists and the conspiracy theorists. Facilitators then ask each side if there's a kernel of truth in those stereotypes.

Passion for pro-life cause sometimes seems to not hear women. And so it goes for three hours, peeling back the onion of opinion, looking for common ground, no trying to change anybody's mind. Part of it was kind of gut-wrenching to sit in those stereotypes and then to hear what the other side, how they felt like we saw them. Divided they were, but these people showed up because they wanted to know each other.

Not by label, but by name. Brent Swenson and Kelly McIntosh. She's a neat lady. I like her. Did you think you would click with someone of the blue persuasion so readily? I would say that I went into it hopeful with that, but I didn't expect to find a friend.

I was shocked at the comfort, the camaraderie, because some of the things that we talked about were not real comfortable political things to talk about. Here's the but. While Braver Angels has held more than 2,000 workshops and is growing, so is the divide. So there's a big gap right here. As for closing it, the brave proposition here is that at least trying is something.

Three, two, one. He retired as a four-star general and as one of the Army's most decorated veterans. Since then, General Stanley McChrystal has devoted much of his energy to promoting a campaign that he hopes can bring the nation together. Political divisions are tearing our nation apart. Perhaps not since the last decade before our Civil War have differing perspectives so threatened the very fabric of American society. Many of us have seen similar forces in places like Iraq and Afghanistan produce unspeakable pain and tragedy and know that something must be done.

But what? My military career taught me that young Americans recruited from every corner of our nation, representing different races, religions, incomes, and accents, can be brought together under a single flag for a common purpose and do great things. In all parts of the country, the letters WPA are a symbol of progress and improvement. During the Depression, they built roads, parks, and other things that have contributed to every generation that followed.

They started straight in, covering their advance with mortar fire. When World Wars I and II erupted, they united to protect not only America, but the world. They came together as diverse as our society and built bridges, not just over rivers, but also to fellow citizens.

Their greatest contribution was not any physical structure. It was in shaping themselves into what Tom Brokaw so aptly described as the greatest generation. I might simply call them good citizens. We can and must do that again by harnessing the power of letting young Americans serve something bigger than themselves. We can do it through what is often called national service.

It's a simple concept. Young Americans come together for a year or two and work together in efforts as varied as healthcare, education, conservation, the military, or other community projects. For that period of their lives, before they go on to jobs, school, or family life, they work alongside other young Americans serving fellow citizens and learning about each other and themselves.

So how could this work? First, it exists today in the many programs like AmeriCorps, City Year, and VISTA, but needs to be expanded. A public-private partnership providing essential funding for stipends and other needs, creating programs and opportunities, and establishing a set of supporting policies like educational grants and job placement for national service veterans is needed. It costs money, and it takes effort.

But the benefits of producing better citizens who are more connected to each other would be worth any amount, and the time to get serious is now. Twenty-three years ago, political scientist Robert Putnam wrote a book called Bowling Alone. The disappearance of bowling leagues was suggestive, Mr. Putnam wrote, of a much wider trend in which we as a nation have become increasingly disconnected from one another, from family, friends, and neighbors. The ultimate irony, of course, is that all of this has happened in the age of the Internet and social media, which enable us to communicate with thousands, even millions of people at a time. It has produced a baffling paradox, a technology that draws us closer together, even as it increasingly is used to drive us apart. There's nothing new, of course, about spreading rumors and half-truths and outright lies about those we don't like. What we've never seen before is how anyone with access to an iPhone can undermine reality, replacing truth with lies and spreading them around the world at the speed of light.

What we're coming to learn, of course, is that far from eliminating loneliness, being in touch with everybody instantly has only appeared to heighten our sense of isolation. I'm Ted Koppel. Please join us when our trumpet sounds again next Sunday morning. Follow us in Apple Podcasts. Before you go, tell us about yourself by completing a short survey at wondery.com slash survey.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-03 16:07:59 / 2023-09-03 16:29:31 / 22

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