Introducing Alan Fairchild . . . in the words of Darryl M. Gumm, Website Founder
Alan Fairchild is a former coworker of mine, whom I consider to be a good friend. Alan’s writing style, life experience and world view make him a gifted writer who I am honored to feature on this website. Please keep coming back to see what else is on Alan’s mind.
Introducing Alan Fairchild . . . in his own words
Crossfire by Alan Fairchild
In an age defined by endless bickering, we need to look beyond the symptoms and find the cause. Once we do we'll likely realize, like Walt Kelly's cartoon character Pogo, that "We have met our enemy and he is us."
While outwardly blaming our tribulations and annoyances on liberals or conservatives, public employees, immigrants, unions or baseball players that make too much money, we secretly loath ourselves for having become cultural vigilantes lying awake at night preoccupied with who might be getting away with something -- and obsessing over how they should be punished.
It's difficult to say when it all began. I recall, though, the epiphanic moment when I personally realized that it had. During the early 1980s I saw a discussion program on Ted Turner's fledgling Cable News Network (CNN) called Crossfire. In it, hosts Tom Braden and Patrick Buchanan quizzed well-known politicos while interjecting their own opinions. The result was a highly partisan debate with a very abrasive and argumentative style. Buchanan, especially, seemed to behave more like a radio "Shock Jock" than the standard, more professional, interviewers we had become accustomed to seeing. My first thought was that if I, as a child growing up in the 1950s, had treated visitors to our home in the same manner he did his guests, "I'd still be grounded today."
Crossfire accomplished two things. It eliminated compromise as an option in our national discourse -- encouraging us to see ourselves only as winners or losers -- and it recast our perceptions of conservatism and liberalism to meet an agenda. Our time-honored principle of "Society before Self" began to crumble before the New Right's "My Way or the Highway." Braden's traditional Eisenhower conservatism became "The Left" while Buchanan's wing-nut extremism morphed into a new-age "Right." Moderate views were scoffed at as "Liberal," and traditional liberals were redefined as wild-eyed Leninists.
The program effectively created a post-Crossfire America -- which could as easily be described as "post-Reagan," since it was during the campaign and subsequent presidency of Ronald Reagan that the Pandora's Box was opened by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Michael Deaver, who attempted to appeal to obscure voting blocs by inventing "bad guys," like welfare recipients, government employees and union members, for his boss to vanquish. The most extreme of these blocs were built around various degrees of self-serving anarchism and included hard-line religious fundamentalists and racial supremacists who felt entitled to a tolerance they refused to extend to others -- which was okay with Reagan and the GOP as long as they voted the right way. That attitude legitimized many radical ideas, which were then carried to the general public by the populist media in talk shows like Crossfire, and the pundits who were subsequently spawned by that program. Nationalistic and quasi-fascist ideas emerged from the half-light of the newly-liberated voting groups' ideological closets, infiltrating America's mainstream and twisting our values.
We proved to be willing recruits, and The Republican Party was ultimately taken over by its own lunatic fringe.
Crossfire itself was merely a symptom of the changes rocking a society guided more by political marketing than moral principles. It showcased what we were becoming -- and we couldn't get enough of it. We loved the way it shocked us in the same way we've come to embrace reality TV today. We thought enough of it, in fact, to replace responsible journalism with the tabloid version and to turn our backs on our long-standing tradition of principled debate. Our ability to "agree to disagree" without fear of being called wimps or elitists or labeled as "politically correct," was replaced by a fascination with hot-button issues communicated in a polarizing, "in-your-face" fashion. Venting opinions became more important than seriously examining issues. If ignored, we invented even more outrageous ways to grab attention; "Will you listen to me if I interrupt you?" "Okay then -- how about if I interrupt you and call you a pinhead?"
We who cling to America's traditional dignity are disturbed by what our society became once freed from the shackles of good manners. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, among others, are always eager to provide anecdotal "proof" that groups they name are unfit to breathe the same air as "real Americans." They peddle outrage like drug dealers pushing pills in schoolyards -- and they sic their armies of zombie-like followers onto anyone whose ideas venture beyond the confines of their own blinkered worldviews.
We are increasingly urged to counter this by creating ideological communities of our own. But such communities must reflect the primary virtue of America's melting-pot society -- tolerance towards diversity. That way, all groups can be included in the American Dream. Opinionated communities can -- and should -- exist only as ghettos within a society of shared basic values. Then they are free to express their disapproval of, say, a lifestyle, religion, or even the rejection of religion, while still recognizing the basic civil rights of those they oppose. That is the only logical definition of freedom in a democracy, and because of it America is one of the few nations in the world whose people can acknowledge the rights of others without having to embrace their beliefs.
For such a system to work, though, the rights of our fellow citizens must trump our personal tastes, dislikes and opinions -- even if they reflect the view of the majority.
Today, fully two generations of Americans are too young to remember civility in either media or politics. That's how things once corrupted become permanent. But there's still hope . . .
The punditry we now realize began to go so wrong during the early Eighties, and that became so evident in Crossfire, provides us with a specific point to which we can return and take a different path, rejecting excessive rudeness, political ruthlessness and social intolerance.
Once back on our original path, we might just sleep easier.