On a recent evening as I was sitting in front of the TV and idly working a Sudoku, an old 60’s song favorite played at the beginning of a news segment. The song brought some humor to a report about conflicts between political figures. The lyrics were simple; “Why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends…”

On a recent evening as I was sitting in front of the TV and idly working a Sudoku, an old 60’s song favorite played at the beginning of a news segment.  The song brought some humor to a report about conflicts between political figures.  The lyrics were simple; “Why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends…”
The song stuck in my head and I began to think about its words. Most of us want friendly relationships, so why is there so much animosity? According to research by a group of AP reporters, the majority of Americans agree on multiple significant matters.  Ninety percent of our fellow Americans self-identify as patriotic people of faith who believe it’s their duty to vote.  They agree that preventing terrorism is important, admire hard workers who gain wealth, want equal opportunity for everyone, value higher education, and favor sex education in schools.  
Pew reported similar numbers of Americans want more infrastructure spending, believe the government should be able to negotiate with drug companies, and want to restrict people with mental illnesses from buying guns. With so many in agreement on major issues, we have to wonder how we find so much to argue about.
One reason is that we have a lot of help.  Cable news and Facebook click-farms are steadily churning out shocking stories, sometimes only thinly disguised as legitimate news and other times completely false, for our entertainment.  By sensationalizing even trivial political missteps, they stir emotions and separate groups that, without the constant drumbeat for dissent, would peacefully coexist.
  The United States has never before seen the level of political division that now undermines our natural inclination to be kind. It has reached the point that people avoid friendships and dating across political divides, and many parents don’t want a child of theirs to marry a supporter of the other party.
The rift may not be quite as deep as cable news and social media messages make it seem. Last month when Hurricane Harvey battered the Gulf coast, a steady stream of high-clearance pick-ups pulling fishing and hunting boats lined the highways as goodhearted bayou residents rushed to the disaster area.  Neighbors with airboats, canoes and kayaks joined them in their mission to rescue trapped Houston and Galveston area flood victims.
These Cajun Navy rescuers didn’t pass by “other” people, nor did other responders from all walks of life.   They were there to save lives, and race, gender, religion or how they might vote wasn’t important.  Despite strained political relations with the United States, Mexico immediately offered aid to endangered Texans.
 The cultural and interpersonal costs of political animosity have crippled government effectiveness and all types of relationships. Although it’s a daunting problem, bridging the gap is not an impossible task.
Interactions between those with differences can work if some effort is made to find common ground   Listening to opposing views doesn’t mean we agree with everything that’s said, but we need to let others express their views.
Most everyday Americans care about each other and want peaceful interactions. Why can’t we be friends?

Vera Nall writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.