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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sue Lani Madsen: The more things change…

Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A magazine cover self-importantly shouts “Special Report.” The headline solemnly declares “Divided We Stand – America’s New Cultural Landscape.” Inside, a series of articles explores why a popular president lost the House in midterm elections, and what it all means in an increasingly tribal political scene, where the biggest worry is being the first generation to leave the country worse off for the next.

It’s a July 10, 1995, edition of U.S. News & World Report. Unpacking long-stashed boxes takes you time traveling without the help of a Tardis.

Except for missing the current sound-bite catchphrases of culture wars and identity politics, it seems nothing much has changed. Culture shapes voters’ attitudes more than race and gender in 1995, say the anonymous authors. Polling shows increasing volatility in the electorate and a vanishing political middle. Liberal and conservative activists at each end of the political spectrum are a minority of the voices but dominate the debate. Americans cite the news media and television as the two most hostile influences driving cultural division. Computer literacy is growing, and “most say once the process becomes more efficient, they’ll go online.”

Twenty-three years later, social media in our pockets has accelerated what was already underway. Mom always said people don’t really change as they get older, they just get more and more like themselves. Apparently so do countries.

President Trump is a reflection of how the division has grown “Redder, Bluer, Trumpier,” according to a current Time magazine issue. Headline for the cover article by Molly Ball says “The Fight is About to Get Even Worse.” But maybe it doesn’t have to.

After a column criticizing the 2017 Women’s March movement for disinviting conservative pro-life women, several local organizers and participants responded with assurances that the Spokane Women’s March really wanted to be inclusive. Behind the scenes, conversations began among a few exasperated women seeking common ground. Small steps to building bridges were being made.

Two years later, the National Women’s March organizers are again under fire, this time for anti-Semitism from key founders. The Spokane organizers immediately issued their own statement, on Facebook, diverging from the national position and restating a commitment to inclusiveness. It was an attempt to distance themselves from the divisiveness, even if they aren’t ready to ditch the founding group.

This year’s Women’s March will feature two-minute videos by local women playing on a loop during the event. Each segment will end with an “I insist” statement of goals for the coming year. Local activist Cynthia Hamilton, a leader in the Resistance movement opposing President Trump, is also one of the Spokane Women’s March organizers. She has offered the opportunity for conservative women to add their voices to the video project. “Any subject, just so you choose what is important to you,” Hamilton said.

The response from Spokane County GOP Chairman Robin Ball was hopeful. “I truly believe we have more in common than items we disagree with. I am cautious but optimistic we can find common ground.”

Perhaps Spokane can start a new movement in 2019 to heal the divided America of 1995. It will take individuals turning down the volume on news media voices eagerly projecting their worst fears and highest hopes onto the subjects of their reporting, as if they have superpowers to read the intentions hidden in the human heart. It will mean relearning how to say “I disagree” instead of “I’m offended.” It will require trusting again that we all seek good ends even if by different means.

Hamilton, a veteran who served six years in the U.S. Air Force, insists on making clear her belief in protecting all citizens and respecting all viewpoints. “We fought a Civil War to keep our country indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Some of us really mean that earnestly.”

Meanwhile, back in the 1995 time machine, “Washington and Tokyo averted – narrowly – a crisis that threatened to unleash a trade war, undermine U.S.-Japanese relations and wreak havoc on the global economy.” Brinksmanship still reigns. Some things haven’t changed, but maybe next January we’ll see seeds of change in Spokane.

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