As I survey some of the big stories making the news these days -- a typically rancorous presidential contest, angry and unbalanced individuals going on mass shooting rampages and even the increasingly tiresome Chick-fil-A controversy -- I sense a pattern emerging. I think that all of these things reflect a growing spirit of divisiveness, distrust and intolerance in our country. The United States seems to be less and less united with each passing day.
There is a lot of stress in this country right now. We have been mired in an economic recession for more years than we care to count and no one seems to know how to get us out of it. Prices keep rising and those of us who have jobs have seen our wages stagnate. We are trying to wind down two separate wars, but there is no sense of victory and no way of knowing what, if anything, our blood and treasure have bought us in the sands of the Middle East. And speaking of deserts, it’s way too hot and way too dry in most areas of the country, and that is not doing anything to improve our economic situation or our mood.
People who are frustrated tend to get angry, and that anger needs something to focus on. And since none of us like to think that we are the problem, we look for a cause outside of ourselves and our peer group.
Most of the people I know tend to be conservative, so I hear a lot about how liberals are ruining the country. It’s President Obama, it’s the gay agenda, it’s the atheists who don’t want to let our kids pray in school who are destroying us from within. If only we could stamp out their influence on our government and culture we would be a great nation once again.
There is no shortage of vitriol coming from the left, either. They tell us that right-wingers are self-righteous, greedy, heartless people. Most conservatives are white and well-off, the thinking goes, and they are desperately trying to cling to power in an increasingly diverse country. They are the party of the privileged, and they couldn’t care less that the average American is struggling to get by.
Of course, that kind of us-against-them thinking has always been around, but in the past there was a sizable moderate, middle-of-the-road portion of the population both in Congress and among the general public who could prod things towards resolution. These days, moderates are seen as traitors to the cause, as Republicans or Democrats-in-name-only, and they have become unelectable.
So we are at war with each other. Everything’s a battle and our side has to win. What kind of future does a country in this state have?
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” said Abraham Lincoln more than 150 years ago, and he was paraphrasing what Jesus said many centuries before that. Some things remain true even as times and circumstances change.
We will always have differences with each other. But when our differences are all that define us -- when we live for the conflict and compromise is unacceptable under any circumstances -- we don’t have much of a future. Oftentimes, a common enemy unites diverse people, but most of our “enemies” today (the budget deficit, misuse of our natural resources, failure to respect each other’s right to live and worship as we see fit) are results of our own selfishness and short-sightedness.
Unless we can take a look in the mirror and realize that we are the problem (not Obama or Romney or Rush or the Chick-fil-A cows) we will continue to fight about everything all the time.
I do think good leadership could help. Sometimes one great leader really can redirect people’s attention and energy away from partisan squabbling toward something more productive. I do not sense that kind of leadership potential in any major political figure in the public eye today, and I’m not sure how long we can wait for one to appear before we are too far gone and the house collapses.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Centerville. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at nscsense.blogspot.com.