Michael Adkins: When we look past our biases


Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian Republican from Michigan, made headlines in July when he announced he was leaving the Republican Party. Amash apparently stunned a number of his constituents when he announced that President Donald Trump was “attempting to circumvent our constitutional system.” One constituent said she was shocked to learn that Trump had done anything wrong because she had never heard of it from Fox News or any of the other conservative news outlets she used for her information. Such an admission says a lot about today’s America and how public opinion is formed and often warped.

I made a personal commitment to watch Fox News, and I confess it is hard for me to stay tuned because of the obvious bias. But the same can be said for CNN and MSNBC. Observing each of those three networks requires me to work past their biases to unearth what lies behind them. Trust me when I say this is no easy task. But as the case of the Michigan constituent reveals, it is a necessary one.

I can cite a couple local examples of how looking past your close-knit community and trusted news sources can be elucidating. Anti-immigration and racism run rampant among many conservatives. But to picture all conservatives in that light would be inaccurate, dishonest and unfair. Many non-racist conservatives may support policies others find racist simply because they are sold to them as conservative policies. Many others recognize racism and oppose it. What sometimes sets the latter apart from the former is that they have observed or encountered experiences that set them apart. For example, C.O. Montgomery, not one to be confused as a liberal, recently penned a thoughtful column about his relationship with a young immigrant he was teaching (“Looking past our differences,” Aug. 3-5, Page A4). His conversations with the young man obviously shaped much of Mr. Montgomery’s opinion, which differs from many local partisans who’ve never had similar encounters. I applaud him for speaking out as he did, and not merely because I agreed with him, but because it is not easy to verbalize an opinion many around you will criticize.

Years ago, I observed another such example where encountering someone with a different viewpoint became enlightening. A successful businessman who considers himself a conservative sought a Spanish language translator for business purposes. After an interview, he returned to his office with new information that helped him better understand the issue of immigration. He told me he never realized just how difficult we have made it to become an American citizen. He was not aware of the many governmental roadblocks and loopholes immigrants, hoping for a better life and seeking the American dream, encounter, even here in central Indiana. The point is that without such encounters, both of these county residents may have simply accepted the party line. Stepping outside your comfort zone to learn and appreciate what forms people’s opinions is not easy, but it makes you far wiser.

Consider that much of the progress we made in this country with civil rights came about because millions of white men fought alongside black men in World War II and the Korean War. Had Southern-born Woodrow Wilson been as progressive on the issue of race as he was on other issues, he would not have re-segregated our military, and thus progress might have begun much sooner.

Michael Adkins formerly was chairman of the Hancock County Democratic Party.Michael Adkins formerly was chairman of the Hancock County Democratic Party. Send comments to [email protected].