Since the presidential election, I have not met one incurable optimist. No one has even suggested that the sharp, jagged edges that have divided the country will soon smooth out, allowing us to undergo a great healing. This indicates, to me at least, that few doubt the seriousness of this division.
Folks in my area of concern were either jubilant over the outcome or dismayed and depressed. I never met a single person who was indifferent to the election. In my opinion, attempting to unify the country at this point would be like trying to create new energy sources by combining oil and water or digging a hole in the solar system.
It seems to me that we have emerged from the more than 200-year-old American Experience as radically different groups of people. The issues dividing us have brought out the worst traits in our national character — ignorance, racism and sexism. Some people have had to dig pretty deep to come up with the kind of ugliness that they have dragged to the surface to justify their beliefs.
I think it is instructive to understand that, in a democracy, there is very little anyone can do to transfer their moral values to other adults. Using the airways, the pulpits or television programming to try to inflict one’s viewpoints on others will only work with a limited number of people. We’re an old democracy and people are used to thinking for themselves. It will probably take at least a few more centuries before brainwashing will work.
I hear that teachers in some school systems are taking it upon themselves to try to instill their personal values in the minds of their students, though. This, too, might work in a limited sense. On the other hand, a more achievable goal would be to regulate standards of behavior.
Yes, it is possible to say “no” to one’s desire to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Perhaps, rather than trying to inflict moral values, we could enforce standards of behavior which might go a long way toward encouraging moral rectitude. Preaching one thing while practicing another has never been a proven way of effecting change.
Another matter that we need to come to grips with is the fact that not all Americans are living in a state of fear. Long before Sept. 11, many of us understood that the death of any person could occur at any time, by any means. We have been told by some in the media that many persons voted their fears.
Certainly, people have the right to vote their fears. Many of us are not prepared, however, to have our freedoms abridged simply because people are living in fear. We understand that there are more productive ways to deal with our anxieties, such as facing them and taking measures to reduce the level of the tensions creating them.
We also know that we cannot expect to live in a peaceful world if we don’t do our part to make peace.
Not all of us are comfortable with the belief that certain individuals are privy to the mind of God and can therefore speak for God. But many among us do believe that. This, too, constitutes another gulf that separates us.
Americans also live in different financial realities. For some, the country is still the land of opportunity, where good jobs are there for the taking. This is not the case for other people. In some areas, unemployment is rampant and the few jobs that are available are low-paying to the extent that some are working three of them merely to make ends meet.
It is stupid for the well-fed and well-endowed to ignore the fact that not everyone is a part of their reality. Yet I see this all the time among the stock market crowd. They are constantly insisting that the economy is on the upswing, and so it may be for them. But it is rude and despicable to blatantly disregard the plight of other Americans for the sake of flaunting one’s financial prowess.
Not to be aware or to pretend not to be aware of the millions of Americans without health insurance or of the many who suffer because they cannot afford their prescribed medicines is unconscionable. In the end, I believe, it is the insufferable arrogance of some that has constituted the framework of the bridge that divides us.
At this time, I don’t see how the disunity can end any time soon; there are serious principles involved that cannot be overlooked for the sake of harmony.
Over time, many writers have insisted that if one wants to raise an army, all he has to do is assert that he is fighting Satan and he will have all the soldiers he needs. An alternative to that might be to convince one group that Caesar can speak for God and therefore assert the right to rule the world.
Eventually, I would say, the differences between some of us will work themselves out. Human beings, after all, are more alike than they are different. What I think we can gain from this election experience is that we will be able to identify those concepts that historically catch us unaware and trap us in their snare.
We learn and grow from our misconceptions and, hopefully, we become wiser.