One of the frustrating things about disagreeing with so many Republicans is their tendency to think in a binary fashion. Binary just means it’s an either/or proposition.

For example, if I say I support continuing the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals program, which provides work permits and deportation protections for nearly 700,000 people brought to the United States illegally as children, I am accused as being pro-illegal immigrants. But, that’s not what I said or even implied. Wanting to take care of children who are already here is not the same as saying I want to allow anyone to enter the U.S. illegally.

Or, if I say racism or misogyny in the U.S. is much worse than thought, I’m accused of not caring about discrimination against white males. No, not what I said. In fact, I’m opposed to those types of discrimination against anyone anywhere. Again, don’t take my thoughts to the extreme position. Allow me to have positions along a spectrum rather than just a binary choice.

A big problem with being pushed to the edge is I find myself taking positions that are defending the extreme. So many times, trying to explain there can be areas in between polar opposites is dismissed by those who disagree. To counter their intractability I am forced to justify the complete opposite side.

I am uncomfortable with abortion as a means of birth control. I understand and sympathize with the pro-life position, but I do support a woman’s right to choose to control what happens to her body. A hard decision for me but one I think is the better one. However, don’t say I’m anti-life. I’m not there.

I have a huge problem with large concentrations of income and wealth that occur because of luck or privilege. We are an extremely rich country, and isn’t it reasonable we should help at least to a limited extent the less fortunate? We should have income and wealth redistribution programs to help the needy and unlucky. But that doesn’t mean I support taking your money and giving it indiscriminately to those who don’t want to work. Isn’t the difference between those ideas obvious?

The LGBT community should have the same rights as everyone else. Note I did not say more rights. Yet, so many times this is construed by opponents as saying the LGBT group should have special privilege. Why must this misinterpretation happen? It certainly isn’t productive.

Ultimately, almost all lingering disagreements come down to differing values. Disputes over facts hopefully can be readily resolved and put away. More complicated are disagreements over beliefs. This tendency to ascribe extreme positions to those who disagree with us has been around a long time, but I think it’s worse than ever. Intelligent, thoughtful and sincere people can disagree and recognize there is at least some legitimacy in an opposing position. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I see your point and find some logic in it, but my values are such I must respectfully disagree.”

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear someone say something like that rather than pushing an opponent to the edge?

Fred Abraham is professor emeritus and former head of the Economics Department at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.


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