Our country is on fire. We have become a viciously crippled, polarized society. These days, an increasing majority of Americans passionately ally themselves with one or the other of two competing ideological extremes, then accuse the other side of every imaginable economic, intellectual, social, spiritual, and moral flaw. Now the people who disagree with us aren’t just “wrong,” they’re grossly stupid and evilly sinful.
I’m old enough to remember when people of good will who disagreed with each other on matters of policy and action could respect their differences but still work through them to reach consensus on what all parties could commit to support. These were consensual agreements based on fact — what’s actually happening — and anchored in a common ground of shared beliefs. We have lost that good will.
In fairness, the differences that now tragically and ominously divide us have always existed in the deep fabric of our nation since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789: finding the delicate balance between the liberty granted individuals in a republic and the responsibilities of all people in a democratic society; between the powers relegated to the states (large and small) and to the federal government; between the proper authority exercised by the three separate branches of government; between the enabling strengths and crippling limitations of both capitalism and socialism; between the promise of unlimited entrepreneurial possibilities and the harsh reality of working for a wage — or in the case of African slaves, no wage at all; between our prosperity as a nation and our membership in a global economy; and between the ideal of unfettered religious freedom versus the unquestioning obedience to an absolute deity. (In today’s world, I could add between an individual’s desire to profit from this country’s extraordinary natural riches and the responsibility to ensure those environmental riches are available and undamaged for future generations.)
In our attempt as a society to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…” we have struggled to come to terms with who we are: does the word “American” apply as equally to white people as to people of color? To both the wealthy and the poor? To men alone or to both sexes? To heterosexuals and also non-heterosexuals? To Christians as well as people of all faiths — or no faith? To immigrants whose families have lived here for generations as well as to those people newly arrived on our shores? (All “Americans,” by the way, are “immigrants.”)
The Founding Fathers well understood these dichotomies — and created our Constitution as the framework for resolving them. They recognized that as long as our society existed, we would need to continue the struggle to “form a more perfect union.” It troubles me greatly that we are so far from that perfection right now.
Forming a more perfect union has never been easy. We fought a devastating Civil War 150 years ago when the chasm between North and South, slave and free states became too great to resolve in peaceful ways. As someone who has deeply studied our Civil War and its causes, I fear we are at the same seemingly irreconcilable point right now. We have lost the ability to listen to each other, to respect our differences, and to work together towards a common goal. Instead, as a nation we are blindly abolishing justice, destroying domestic tranquility, impoverishing the general welfare, and as a result, squandering the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our children.
We are cursed with a president — a gratuitously, preposterously self-styled “Very Sane Genius” — who crudely, malevolently, and gleefully does everything he can to throw gasoline on the fires of hatred and division which already burn far too hotly. “Shit hole countries,” indeed. This from someone who has admitted freely that he kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches, My New Order by his bedside — for inspiration. And we are hampered by a Congress too many of whose members — of both parties — have, in their lust for political power and ideological sanctity, abrogated their oath of office to serve the people of this country and not just those who support them.
So it’s time for the American people, in all our diversity, to unite in saying “NO” to the craziness. Whether Trump finishes out his first (and one prays his only) term in office is now in the hands of Robert Mueller and his team. None of us knows how that will play out. We don’t need another Civil War, this time pitting Red States against Blue (as much as the conspiracy theory nut cases and alt-right domestic terrorists might like the idea of bloodshed). And the idea of “Revolution” is dangerous (especially in a society so well armed) because revolution so easily leads eventually to tyranny.
There’s a simpler way: For starters, clean out Congress in 2018, not based on party loyalty, but rather on individual candidates’ commitment to respect the differences that divide us and work for the good of ALL Americans. A lot of these newcomers may be women, young people, and people of color. When we look at the sorry shambles (wealthy) white men are making of our country, why not?
Find good local candidates. Support them passionately. Affirm that as a people we can be better than our fears.