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Editor’s note: As part of The Denver Post’s ongoing effort to expand our roster of local opinion columnists, I recently reached out to Reggie Rivers. A former Broncos player, Rivers wrote a weekly column for The Post from 2001 to 2006, when he became a sports anchor for CBS4. I asked Rivers if he would like to return to the op-ed pages. Below was his response. Although he won’t be joining us as a columnist, the reasons for his reluctance speak volumes about our nation’s political and social climate.
— Cohen Peart, opinion editor
Great to hear from you. Thank you for thinking of me, but my desire to comment on current political and social events has waned significantly. I don’t want to be a columnist.
Our country is so polarized that 50 percent of the people completely reject every opinion offered by someone on the other side of the aisle. I used to have an appetite for this conversation, because I was young and naive and thought that talking about things, considering other perspectives and arguing for truth and justice could really make a difference.
But eventually I realized that we’re all mostly speaking into echo chambers. Everyone chooses the media sources that tell them what they want to hear. They nod in affirmation when they hear their beliefs parroted back at them, and pat themselves on the back for being so smart. When they happen to stumble upon an opposing viewpoint, they are amazed by the rampant stupidity of the people on the other side.
We’ve mostly lost the willingness to recognize that most issues are multi-dimensional and both sides can be telling the truth and lying at the same time. For example, Republicans argue for immigration controls, while Democrats argue that we need to let people in. Both sides are correct. Yes, we need to protect our borders, AND yes, we need to allow immigration. It’s possible to achieve both of these priorities.
But in the arguments that ensue, Republicans build a straw man out of the Democrats’ positions by insisting that the left doesn’t care about security, wants completely open borders and doesn’t care if a flood of illegal immigrants raises our taxes and overwhelms our social services.
Democrats build a straw man out of the Republicans’ positions by insisting that the right is full of racist, xenophobic, self-centered jerks who want to block out anyone who isn’t like them, doesn’t care about the damage to immigrant families and is perfectly willing to isolate the United States from the world.
Neither of these straw men is an accurate depiction, but they have become the accepted positions that they hurl back and forth at each other. This extreme polarization is toxic and demoralizing.
I lost several friendships over Donald Trump’s election. These were Republicans I’d have regular debates with, but ours were always cordial disagreements. During our conversations, we would disagree about most things, but we often found small areas of agreement, and that encouraged us to continue the conversation.
During election season, Trump’s idiotic behavior and words forced some of my friends to contort their arguments and beliefs to ridiculous lengths to maintain their support. For a while, I didn’t take these contortions too seriously. I understand the reality that if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you’re doing to defend your core ideology, even when the human being who is currently carrying the political torch for those beliefs has significant flaws. Democrats were in this bind when they defended Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky situation.
But things came to a head for me shortly after “Grab them by the [genitals].” Most of my Republican friends said some version of “Donald Trump is a repugnant idiot, and I don’t agree with his personal views. However, I’m voting for him because I want the Republican Party to control the White House, and I’m hoping that the Republican House, Republican Senate, Republican governors and key White House advisers can keep Trump under control.”
I could understand and respect their position. They felt “stuck” with Trump, because nothing could make them vote for Hillary Clinton.
However, to my dismay, I discovered that I had other friends who actually agreed with Trump. They actually defended him, actually agreed with his core philosophies, actually shared his authoritarian vision, actually didn’t think there was anything wrong with his locker room talk, actually didn’t think there would be anything wrong with expelling all Muslims, actually thought it was a good idea to build a wall, and on and on.
Their tolerance (and shocking enthusiasm) for Donald Trump revealed a level of racism and sexism that was completely intolerable to me. I would not associate with people who were willing to say things they were saying.
So I stopped speaking to those people. Completely.
And just like that, I slid further into the echo chamber. By shutting out these former friends, I shut out my access to people whose opinions are radically different from mine. I’ve shut out the conversations, the debates, and the periodic agreements. Now I listen to media outlets that confirm what I already believe. I talk to people who share my beliefs and we all nod our heads, marveling at how smart we are — amazed by the sheer stupidity of people on the other side.
It is sad, demoralizing and completely toxic to our democracy.
Reggie Rivers is a former Denver Post columnist and CBS4 sports anchor.
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