It is becoming increasingly apparent that the United States is heading for a violent reckoning in the fairly near future. I don’t say this lightly or with a cavalier attitude about it. In fact, I am terrified at the prospects of it. But it is undeniable and inevitable.
The reason I believe this is because of how polarized we have become towards each other. There has always been a healthy dialog between us about our politics and we all know that we have never all agreed on anything. The difference today is that there is genuine confusion on both sides about why the other side believes what it believes.
Like many of you I have friends and family on both sides of the political spectrum, we always have. What I am seeing is frustration growing from everyone regarding the others point of view. Both sides believe what they are seeing and feeling is the real truth. They feel this desperately, deeply, and completely.
Obviously we both can’t be right. I am not going to get into specifics because it doesn’t matter to this narrative but we all know what they are. In the past we would calmly discuss our differences and most times come to a solution that might not be 100% what either wanted but one that both could live with, and importantly, good for the country. Today that is impossible.
Confusion and frustration are turning into anger and hatred towards each other and that is never a good thing for a democracy, which itself is on the fence right now with half of us. I have always prided myself on being open to hear thoughts and ideas from the other side of an issue but I am finding myself more and more becoming less interested in what someone who doesn’t agree with me has to say. I don’t like that about myself.
Most of my problem stems from my disbelief that the other side actually thinks the things they are saying are true when the facts show otherwise. They feel the same way about me and that leads to more confusion and frustration for us both. So why is this so much more of a problem today than it ever was?
That is not as simple an answer as you might believe.
There are layers of issues that need to be peeled back like an onion. It is too easy to point a finger at this person and say it started with him or her. However there is some truth to that position. Another layer is the ease of getting misinformation from social media which fuels intense feelings. Access to the internet provides so many wrong stories, or stories with only partial truth, that it is easy to justify your position on any subject or issue.
Tribalism is an important part of this new friction as people are tending to only associate with those that have the same thoughts and beliefs as they do because it makes us feel better to hear our feelings talked back to us by someone. Civility, or the lack of it, is another layer. People no longer feel they need to watch what they say or how they say it to another person. We used to not want to hurt someone’s, especially family or friends, feelings so we would either keep our fat yaps shut, or not get into an argument easily with the other person.
Cable news has had a huge hand in leading us down the road of desperation as the media on the far right continues to pump out false stories on issues to keep their base glued to their channel while the media on the left looks away from issues that don’t match the interest of their base. If you watch Fox News and MSNBC you would think we live on different planets.
Add in all the other usual things that get in the way of a normal discourse like race, religion, income, education, and on and on, and you can see that we are in a deep mess. I think this is also part of the issue. We all know there is a problem, but nobody knows what to do, or how to fix it, without causing a bigger problem.
We had dinner Saturday night with some friends of ours from Canada and it was eye opening for me to hear their questions and concerns about our country. They couldn't understand why so many people here could not see the long term effect on what our internal fighting could lead to.
They wondered, aren't people worried that while we are fighting each other that China, or some other country, would swoop in and try to take us over? And equally importantly for them, if America is busy fighting amongst ourselves who is going to protect Canada, and the rest of the world, from aggression?
I had to admit that sadly, half the country isn't concerned about the rest of the world or them. They are genuinely scared about what is happening down here. They thought we were smarter than we really are. Their look of confusion said it all.
Sunday I had a frank discussion on Facebook with a friend about the state of our country and what is wrong here. He is going to vote Republican because he believes the country is being destroyed by the liberal Democratic machine. When pressed for examples it turns out his main issues are immigration and the economy, the same issues the Democrats have.
We discovered that we had more things we agreed on than not and it ended pleasantly without any vitriol or anger. I genuinely believe he was surprised that we could come to an agreement on a number of things.
Still, what seems so clear to you and me is proof to others that we are nuts and have lost control of our senses. And it is only going to get worse a week from Tuesday. Whichever side loses is going to be really unhappy and angry. The question is will that anger lead to a civil war or just be another step in that direction. War is inevitable unless we somehow find a way to start talking to each other like civilized people and not like crazy people.
And that includes me.