A nation in search of itself

Published 9:27 pm Thursday, May 24, 2018

“And they came from everywhere to the Great Divide, seeking a place to stand or a place to hide.” — Quoted lyrics by Don Henley and Glenn Frye

First candidate, now President Donald Trump has said ad infinitum that he wants to “Make America Great Again,” even as, with the help of his supporters and enablers, he rips it asunder.

The story of politics is the story of such paradoxes.

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And, tempting as it may be to some, to simply blame Trump and his close following flock for what is wrong with contemporary America, would be both blindly partisan and factually inaccurate, neither of which interests me, and both of which are contributing factors to the far larger problem.

We may pledge our allegiances to “one nation, under God,” but the United States of America is today no more “indivisible” than is the number 8 (At least the laws of math haven’t changed — yet).

Americans have always had their differences, of course, and the fact is, those differences not only can be but quite often are good and healthy things. But a difference is not the same as a divide, and one does not automatically lead to the other.

Contemporary America is not merely a nationstate with a lot of differences; 2018 America is a nationstate with a divide, a yawning cavern separating just about half of us from the other and seemingly growing wider every day.

For lack of anything better, I just call it the Great Divide.

It isn’t just politics, Republicans and Democrats.

It isn’t just philosophy, liberal and conservative.

Rather, it is almost elemental, a bottomless, amorphous vortex of unshared commonality, in which reality itself, or at very least the perceptions of it are diametrically opposed. There is America and there is Fox News America, and leaders on both sides work unceasingly to see that never the twain shall meet.

“Who will provide the grand design?

What is yours and what is mine?”

Americans have always been a painfully practical people.

But that is no longer as evident as it once was and it is becoming less so by the day.

For more than 200 years, a sufficient majority of Americans to make the country work did so based on a remarkably simple principal: People should form their opinions on the basis of facts. Now their opinions might differ and they might argue about those facts, but everybody agreed that the facts were facts, and hence, helpful to the reasoning process.

But, no more.

Oh, no.

Now, people on both sides of the Great Divide no longer accept as such objective reality, and instead have adopted ever-dueling, mirror image, subjective ones.

People on both sides now agree upon, and accept as contingent upon, their facts only in so far as they confirm and reinforce their previously formed opinions.

Having separated into warring tribes, those on either side of the Great Divide now live, exist almost totally within dueling echo chambers of dogma, in which that which is real becomes that which we desire to be real — and it doesn’t matter if it really is or not as long as enough of our fellow tribesmen agree and say it is.

Matter, meet antimatter. The lie repeated often enough has turned truth upside down.

It is a common element shared by all dystopian nightmares. Everybody likes to reference Orwell’s “1984” in such pieces as this, but Bradbury’s  “Fahrenheit 451” might be even more appropriate.

Lincoln’s metaphorical American house is uneasy, and even within the cacophonies blaring from both sides of the Great Divide, you can hear its timbers beginning to creak.

And, of course, it is the other side’s fault.

“We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds in the name of destiny and in the name of God.”