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We need to move our Overton Window back to the Center

Kirk Bangstad

I got my hair cut yesterday by a good friend and found myself holding my tongue because our views on re-opening our businesses during the pandemic diverged dramatically.

I thought to myself, “why has the pandemic turned so political when just a few months ago we were all working together to ‘flatten the curve’?”

The answer? Trump and his strategists are masters at dividing this country, even friends in the tiny town of Minocqua, by moving this thing called the Overton Window to the extreme right. In the case of the pandemic, they created a false choice between safety and re-opening the economy that pitted our health vs. our economic livelihoods, for their own political gain.

First, what’s the Overton Window?  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, The Overton Window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time.  Check out the chart below.  A new idea that seems bonkers at first to the general public could become acceptable or even popular over time if the frame of what’s acceptable changes.

Stick with me here, I know this is long, but I end strong:)

A crazy idea on the left would be to seize all rich people’s property and give it to poor people (essentially communism which was proven not to work at all).  Or…a more relevant issue…knocking down statues that have nothing to do with the confederacy to protest racial justice.

A crazy idea on the right would be to separate immigrant children from their parents and lock them up in cages…Oh wait, that’s actually happening now.  Or refusing to wear facemasks (universally recognized to slow the spread of contagion) to show that you think Covid-19 is a hoax…Oh wait, that’s actually happening now too.  

Unless I’m wrong, I don’t think most of my neighbors in the Northwoods would think tearing down random statues or locking immigrant children in cages is acceptable.  However, as a nation, our Overton Window has made both acts acceptable to some on either side. 

Now, even though I used far left and right examples to explain the theory, I believe that the Republican Party under Trump has vastly moved the window of what’s acceptable to the public to a dangerous rightwing extreme.

Proof? Read the quotes below from every Republican president since Eisenhauer.  On the issues of military spending, the environment, race, immigration, and even pandemics, most people who called themselves Republicans 10-60 years ago would probably vote for a Democrat today if the Overton Window of what’s acceptable hadn’t lurched to the right. Look at each of these quotes and imagine Trump or any Republican in our state legislature (who are all afraid of standing up to the party of Trump) saying them today. It’s very hard to imagine.

So what’s my point?  My point is that we as neighbors in the Northwoods aren’t that different, but we’ve been conditioned to hate and argue, both on the right and left, but more-so on the right.  At this stage, the rhetoric is so unhinged that we have to try to shut it all off and listen to our guts, and re-center our internal Overton Windows to sanity.

Our guts say, no matter what Trump, Fox News, Rob Swearingen, or the Vilas County Sheriff  says, that we shouldn’t put immigrant kids in cages and that we should be ferociously pissed off if a dude walks around in Conover with a KKK costume.

Our guts say, no matter what Trump or Swearingen say, that the pandemic is real (most new cases in one day in the U.S. yesterday) and that we should listen to Fauci and not be divided when it comes to public health.

Our guts say, no matter what Swearingen says, that our Wisconsin public schools need more money this fall because it’s going to be a shitshow trying to figure out how to best educate our kids in a pandemic.

Our guts say, no matter what Swearingen or Tiffany says, that we shouldn’t allow sulfide mining in our backyards which would essentially be injecting battery acid into or rivers and lakes.

We have to re-align our own internal Overton Windows to a time before Trump and Swearingen when Republicans and Democrats weren’t so far apart and worked together.

And yes, Republicans, that means you’re going to have to move more towards where you were 10 years ago. I’m sorry, the window has moved to the right more-so than the left, so you’re going to have to do more work to get back to the center.  That doesn’t mean us lefties don’t need to work as well to be less caustic, because screaming at each other isn’t the answer either.

Let’s tune out the unhinged political rhetoric this summer and use our guts  based on our Wisconsin “nice” upbringing this November at the ballot box to move our Overton Window back to the center and save our Country and our State. 

Please share with your conservative friends and if you really agree with me, please donate to my campaign.


Military Spending

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

--Dwight Eisenhower (1961) Republican


“The Congress, the Administration and the public all share a profound commitment to the rescue of our natural environment, and the preservation of the Earth as a place both habitable by and hospitable to man.” 

--Richard Nixon (1970), Republican


"The United States Government, under the Constitution and the law, is committed to the guarantee of the fundamental rights of every American. My Administration will preserve these rights and work toward the elimination of all forms of discrimination against individuals on the basis of their race, color, religion, national origin, or sex."

--Gerald Ford (1975), Republican 


Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status.

--Ronald Reagan (1982), Republican


Our stewardship of the Earth is brief. We owe it to those who follow to keep that in perspective, to be responsible passengers along the way.

--George H.W. Bush (2009), Republican


'If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare'

--George W. Bush, 2005, Republican

Written by Kirk Bangstad on 06/25/20

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