The Divided States of America

LOS ANGELES

WAR CORRESPONDENT--When I signed up for this gig, I didn’t realize I might end up as a war correspondent. But when I talk to people these days, it feels like something bad is about to happen -- and they want it to happen. 

Everyone expects Democrats and Republicans in Congress to go at each other hammer and tongs. This is the new normal in which compromise is viewed as surrender and only complete annihilation of your opponent is an acceptable outcome. It’s the same story in state capitols across the country. 

Bipartisanship has been dead since the beginning of Bill Clinton’s term in 1993. In the last quarter century, one party has been driven relentlessly into a hard position that the other side is not just wrong, but evil. To a good extent, this is due to the Republicans’ many supporters who see government as not just interfering with their right to worship, but actively working to force them to act against their beliefs. 

Building on this base, others whose motivation is racial and ethnic prejudice or maybe just a feeling that nobody is on their side has led to a constant strengthening of the wall between Americans.

On the other side are those who have a hard time comprehending why anyone would refute science or encourage government to turn a blind eye to prejudice. Their world is fact-based and logical and spirituality is an individual and not collective practice. 

Simply put, one side views non-conformity as the greatest virtue and the other as the greatest sin.

And now the battle lines are drawn not just in Washington and state houses, but in courthouses and city halls and coffee shops and taverns and every street corner in America. 

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen more and more evidence that Democrats and others who don’t share Donald Trump’s (or Paul Ryan’s) world view aren’t interested in even talking about trying to work with Republicans. They’re ready for war. 

We’re not talking about conservatives and liberals or left and right anymore. The United States has reached the point where its population is now divided simply into “us” and “them.” 

I’ve been struck by the number of folks who have told me about visiting relatives over the holidays and carefully avoiding any mention of politics. It’s not just the potential for bad feelings, but the danger of an actual rift in the family. (I wonder if that’s what it was like discussing slavery with your Southern relations before the Civil War.) 

This is where I should offer soothing phrases about the need to step back from the brink and engage in dialogue. After all, we share the same ideals and pledge allegiance to the same flag. We believe in the American dream and all that other stuff they taught us in school. 

Except it’s mostly nonsense and anybody who’s read a little history knows it.

But, the part about equality is real. That stuff about “all men are created equal” and “equal justice under law” and “liberty and justice for all” is the one constant thread that runs through American history. Slowly and inexorably, society’s institutions of government have displaced the sanction of prejudice and intolerance. 

Ultimately, that’s what this war will be about. 

Is America going to turn its back on our history of looking to the future, welcoming the new and different, understanding that progress comes with a price? Or will “them” -- or are they “us” -- prevail?

In the coming years, you’ll be hearing a lot more about this battle for the soul of America. It will consume vast amounts of space in publications, online, and via the airwaves. Many will think of themselves as warriors fighting for freedom and liberty or God and country. Some will sit back and enjoy the fight. I suspect most Americans will consider themselves innocent bystanders. 

Meanwhile, I have a war to cover.

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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