There’s an elephant in the room. In fact, there’s an entire herd. Our country is divided in ways not seen since the Civil War and that divide goes past party, right smack into a giant morass. This land of the free and home of the brave has been steadily careening toward a constitutional crisis and no one seems to know where the brakes are.
Yes, I know jobs are on a steady rise and so is the stock market. The economy continues its 7-year recovery. So far, so good. But things like incivility, racism, gun violence and moral equivalency are ramping up to unseen levels, too. The gaping crevasse of division has been magnified, in no small way, by the man whose very position is supposed to bring us all together — not fuel a growing turmoil. Under his reign, politics has morphed from that of my parents’ voting climate to a near monarchy. Party has become loyalty to a man, not the law or the values it once held firm. The aura of ‘presidential’ has become a myth as has national unity.
I am proud to be American and always will be, even though, like many relationships, ours can go off the rails sometimes. The relationship can get testy, make you worried and upset, but, like every family’s version of the drunk uncle, we accept it as part of a tribe we love. While we can’t disavow some frankly ugly parts of our American history, we are rightly proud of its multitude of shining achievements, generosity of spirit and so much more.
Your vibe attracts your tribe.
‘Shithole nations’. Rapists and murderers.” “Lyin’ Ted”. “Crooked Hillary”. “Loser”. From mocking a disabled reporter to describing white supremacists as ‘some fine people’, talk has been anything but presidential — let alone conducive to unity. We disagree on climate change even as nature says, “what the?”. We want to decrease our national deficit as trillions were added to a tax bill, and millions fly out each weekend on golf outings. Ooops. That’ll leave a mark.
“United we stand, divided we fall.” Aesop
We are increasingly more nervous about ‘the other’. We are so concerned that brown is replacing white, we somehow forget that, once upon a time, white (forcibly) replaced red. To no surprise, hate crimes have surged 20% since the election, while Nazi flags and torches marched in the street. Who have we become?
Latinos, Muslims, Asians. Christians and Jews. Straights and LBGTQ. Liberals and Democrats. Whites and blacks. Hangin’ with our tribe is intrinsic to humanity but closing ranks against the other doesn’t help a damn thing. We’ve learned to race to our respective corners and find our spot with like thinkers, like colors and like cultures. We want community but unseen lines are drawn when conversation becomes too toxic for comfort. What happens when we feel threatened, mistreated or disrespected? Well, those us-against-them weeds grow like wildfire and lately they’ve been over-running the perennial red, white and blue.
Show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.
If this experiment in democracy was meant to make us ‘great’ again, I’m not feelin’ it. With every rally and every tweet, we are pulled farther apart. We choose our respective foxholes and dig in our heels while raucous conspiracy theorists fan the flames. Their destructive rhetoric unfortunately meets its mark in the highest levels of government, in the next rally speech, even in the thoughts of earnest, kind people who just wanted change and hope. I know these people. I love these people.
We were never naïve; we always knew the ugly truth. We just pretended we didn’t see our baser instincts buried lightly under our collective patriotic Spanx. When we put down stakes in America, we were the immigrants. We neatly renovated the place and not so gently relocated the original owners. Once having escaped a caste system of wealth and serfs, we were now free to create our own brand of servitude. We just imported ours in chains.
“Divided there is little we can do. Together there is little we cannot do.” J.F. Kennedy
We were all humans until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us and wealth classified us. There was always ‘the other’. There was always greed and ‘what about me’. It’s just been awhile since we turned over that rock, unleashing and giving license to all the creepy, crawly things that flourished beneath. Awkward.
For the most part, by reason of just being human, we share more than we don’t. From sports to spiritual, BBQ to Broadway, science to sacrifice, we connect with our fellow human. Our divides erupt on gun laws, racism, immigration, and religion (And there’s more than one flavor, folks, just like Baskin’ Robbins) Patriotism is often confused with politics. Each tribe truly believes they carry the banner for American values and democracy while the other strives to destroy them. Yet, each side bears the capability for coalition. We all want to safeguard our children on the net, want good jobs and to rebuild a crumbling infrastructure. How can we start a new conversation? How do we move to the middle?
I came late to the political table. I was one of those ditzy voters who clicked all the boxes of their family’s political leanings without thinking. Dumb, right? I didn’t realize how I was selling my country and myself short until my beautiful granddaughter showed me up big time in her first vote at 21.
“If we spend all our time feeding the American people fear and conflict and division, they become fearful, conflicted and divided. If we feed them hope, reason and tolerance, they will become tolerant, reasonable and hopeful.” Barack Obama
There’s no quick fix to problems that have taken decades to bloom. We’ve been on the cusp of this division thing for a long time; we just didn’t know it. Still, something’s got to give, and we’ll need something radical to change the toxic deep divide. Unfortunately, neither the red or blue team is about to throw the game or give up without a fight. All we can fervently hope is, that since we are long past muskets and cannon balls, civil war isn’t on the table.
I believe America IS great and never stopped being so. It doesn’t need to step backwards to reclaim that greatness and it shouldn’t. This land of our fathers needs to go forward with kindness and a new narrative. If we insist on looking backward to a time when we are told we were great, we will meet ghosts of Christmas past that won’t be pretty. What we need is what really makes us great. And that has less to do with job and stock market numbers than the people who believe in the values we started with.
“We are only as strong as we are united; as weak as we are divided.” Albus Dumbledore
Bizarrely, there’s been surge in white nationalists and anti-Semites running for public office. Who would have thought? Sure we believe in free speech but really, dudes? My vote would be with the unicorns, political odd couples of opposite parties who realize they are ‘better together’ to get things done in a non-partisan way. C-o-o-p-e-r-a-t-i-o-n, kids! We learned that in kindergarten and it still works when everyone plays nice. Whether your fears of the ‘other’ have been ramped up by conspiracy theories, or the demonization of the free press, defended by founding fathers and presidents alike (don’t get me started on that one!) — this place needs a makeover.
We don’t need to be the same to be together.
Our country cut its teeth on rebellion; nothing new there. We rebelled against British rule and its taxes. We rebelled against the Vietnam war and for Racial Equality. Now our children rebel against gun violence in numbers reminiscent of those protesting years that created change out of apathy. The Dreamers, #MeToo and other voices of justified rebellion are also on the move. All are trying to break a deafening silence, knowing it’s going to take a whole lot more than ‘hope and prayers’ to dial back the chaos that’s become our beloved country.
Margaret Thatcher once said that “No other nation has been built upon an idea, the idea of liberty”. Our country wasn’t built on race, religion or tribe. It isn’t held together by the flag, or the anthem but on the ideals of equality and freedom. And if we stop believing in our founding principles, we stop being America. Full stop.
We may not always be E Pluribus Unum, but we can certainly give it a better shot. This mostly United States is made up of inventors, dreamers, artists, builders and doers. We misstep now and then, but hey, who doesn’t? American can only be great if her people are good and we have the history to prove it. We’ve shown we can play by the rules, and that once our laws were used to govern not marginalize and persecute. We are a great people because we are diverse, because we want peace and no matter how we might have screwed up, we know we can change for the better. It might be a big ask but hey, America, let’s give it shot.
Everything depends on it.
Disclaimer: Since I always offer true confessions, I thought I’d also assure that my words are always just my considered opinions. Love ’em or hate ’em, it’s on me. I don’t speak for everyone, just for a girl who took a lifetime to find her authentic self.