It’s been difficult to put into words the frustration surrounding the utterly improbable political situation we now find ourselves in. Was it because white Americans didn’t spend enough time considering their privilege? Was it because fanatics and raving lunatics on both sides were screaming at the tops of their lungs and failing to provide anything of substance? Or was it because the media, the self-appointed arbiters of truth in the public forum and “fourth estate” occupants, failed to understand the dire implications of treating the candidate with the same respect as any other candidate with merit?
Whatever the reasoning, our country’s image is now tarnished; likely for the foreseeable future. Whatever claim we had to any semblance of moral high-ground is no longer valid; our collective reticence around privilege, class, and race has become the raison d’etre for the resurgence and rebranding of hate-groups and racism. Misogyny, homophobia, and religious hatred are not part of the “post-” world that liberals and leftists claimed had won–the “culture war” having been soundly decided.
To the contrary: the culture war is never over. Culture itself is an Ouroboros, ever in a cycle of consumption of ideas and renewal in new growth and paradigms.
What liberals and leftists have failed to comprehend is the deleterious effects of the new media streams that have created the proverbial “walled gardens” and “echo chambers”. We spend time in our respective bubbles, kept clearly segmented from others who think, speak, pray, and present differently. We wrap ourselves in this identity politics like a safety blanket, believing that the bogey-men of racism, classism, and extremism will simply “go away” if we stop giving them further infusions of energy by ignoring them.
We ignore the elements that could undo our imperfect Union from within at our own peril. By not addressing them directly, turning our attention away from efforts to improve the condition of those individuals who are most often targeted for recruitment by those same elements, we instead dig the shallow grave for our Union to be laid in.
Are we collectively at-fault? Jury’s out on that one. I imagine that history will not be flattering or favorable to any of us if our Union survives.
“E pluribus unum” seems like a quaint and meaningless placation in light of the troubles we collectively face. If our divisions since the founding are any indication, we are no further along the path to stamping out any of the myriad “-isms” or phobias that have formed the contrasts that we now see amplified in our mass-media-driven politics: you’re either for something, or against something by simple virtue of which pundits to which you listen, who you have as friends on social media, and where you happen to live either by circumstance or choice.
Urban-versus-rural, secular-versus-religious, post-racial-versus-racist, modern-versus-classical–the short list is daunting on its own.
What should we be engaging in? What should your response be if you are an urban, secular, post-racial, “modern” American? What of the opposite? What should your response be if you are a rural, religious, (even passively) racist, classical sort of American?
I’d postulate that our divisions are both because of and exacerbated by our inability to empathize and to step into the shoes of another. Our uncompromising belief that “they” are always wrong, and that we are always right isn’t just preposterous, it’s downright dangerous.
Let’s take an extreme example of contrast and instead perhaps see the similarities:
A non-white, female, urban college-student and a white, male, rural farmer. What can we make of their commonality?
- They’re both Americans by virtue of being citizens, they’re both likely under a tremendous amount of debt (one due to college, the other likely due to bank loans for the farm that they are operating).
- They’re both probably concerned about the environment, albeit for potentially drastically different reasons (one due to living conditions abroad and health crises, the other due to the ability to reliably produce quality crops).
- They’re both probably interested in making sure that healthcare is affordable and equitable (college students historically don’t make a lot of money, and neither do farmers).
- They’re both probably at least somewhat concerned about the other. College is often times the avenue of escape for children born into rural families and urban families are often similarly aligned in this desire.
- Poverty is a big deal to both of them, seeing as how neither one wants to starve or depend on others.
- Equity in the “social contract” that makes up civil society in America matters to both of them–one wants an equal share of what is rightfully hers by virtue of being an American citizen and being devoted to equality, the other just wants a “fair-shake” in the marketplace and to not get screwed.
Are there social divisions? Of course. There always has been. After recognizing the points of commonality between both of the aforementioned people, is it difficult to believe that relation and empathy are impossible? When engagement happens from both sides through discourse and debate, when one does not treat the other as inferior, and instead they recognize that one without the other dooms the “grand experiment” to failure?
When we spend our time in identity politics and reveling in our respective circles, failing to expand beyond them, we limit our scope and our ability to understand each other. We fail to empathize–and when our empathy fails us, we do not have the ability to see our similarities and make common cause.
This is the primary reason why Hillary Rodham-Clinton lost. Not because of scandal, not because she has been Scapegoat and Enemy Number One of entrenched misogyny and anti-intellectualism (though these things certainly didn’t help), but because she was dangerously out-of-touch with the electorate that she was expecting to lead.
Working-class families of all colors are looking for answers. Middle America is looking for a reason to be hopeful again. Coastal elites are looking for opportunity. Former Secretary Clinton offered none of these things. Tepid, procedural, and unquestionably lacking in personal energy or magnetism, she oozed elitism and did nothing to distance herself from the forces that have loudly and publicly sought to line their pockets and leave everyone else with the bill.
And the people responded–loudly. A feckless demagogue and consummate sociopath is now en-route to the highest office in the land. “Better an evil that we can see than one that will use every trick in the book to obscure and confound.”
The chance to rectify this situation passed with the end of the Democratic nomination process–and let’s not mince words about it: Senator Bernie Sanders was effectively robbed of the opportunity to provide the one thing that might have provided us with some semblance of continuity and possibility. A true fight for the emotional core of our country would have gone a much longer way toward bringing us closer together as a nation than the tone-deaf placations that were proffered by the establishment candidate.
If that opportunity was robbed from us and democracy left to bleed-out in the street, the proverbial knife in the second-longest political night in historical memory, then what is left to be done?
All of us, regardless of the space that we occupy on the political spectrum, the unique economics that we experience, the color of our skin, the names of our deities, or even our names specifically, have a duty; one that likely all of us have forgotten. Democracy is not built and engaged upon once and set in stone, it is a living body whose maintenance lies in the exercise of discourse, dissent, discovery, and determination. We have largely failed in our duty to engage each other as equals, as described in the founding documents of our nation:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” – United States Declaration of Independence, 2nd paragraph
I would argue that instead of shrinking from conflict, that we instead fix our gaze upon them. We must be steely-eyed and stand at our fullest heights, emboldened by the power of wanting and being wanted. That all of us may not be desired or loved by all, but there are people out there who desire us and love us. Whether your belief is in an Almighty God, many Gods, Goddesses, or none at all; now more than ever we must make appeals to the angels of our better natures.
But–we must remain firm in our belief that we all have a right to the spaces that we occupy, the air that we breathe, and the ability to use our voices. Though we may vehemently disagree with each other, we must respect each other as best as we can. Where violence, inequality, and disenfranchisement rear their ugly heads, we cannot shrink from those struggles. Appeal to the laws where necessary; disobey when the hands of Justice remain still. The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice and equality only when we exert the pressure necessary to make it so.
Above all, I would beseech everyone to commit this phrase to memory: “E pluribus unum”. Literally translated, it means “From many, one.” We are one. Lest we forget.