“Out of one, many” – a nation divided

“Out of one, many” – a nation divided

July 16, 2022 0 By Rick

I’ve just returned from an extended vacation in the US – my first visit to the country of my birth in three years. I’d been warned by good friends from across the political spectrum that I wouldn’t recognize my homeland. I thought they were exaggerating, but they weren’t. Despite having been in warring countries and clashing cultures, I was shocked. US states have always enjoyed great independence from the federal government, and things seemed to have worked out reasonably well. But now, Americans seem more divided than ever, gridlocked over social and political issues, race, gender and the economy, to name just a few. Forgotten appears to be the Latin motto that graces the Great Seal of The United States of America – “E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). It seems almost the opposite – out of one, many. We are a nation divided. Battle lines have been drawn, positions firmly established and there’s little room for civilized discussion or compromise, or so it seems. Bathrooms have become battlefields. Borders have become battle lines. Our beloved “melting pot” is on the verge of boiling over. The following groups are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure there’re many that I didn’t have a chance to see.

– Celebrate the 4th of July – cancel the 4th of July 
– Pro-Biden – anti-Biden
– Pro-Trumpers – anti-Trumpers
– Stolen election – fair election
– Pro-vaccine – anti-vaccine
– Real science – fake science
– Abortion proponents – pro-life proponents
– Mainstream Christianity – Evangelical Christianity
– Religious – agnostic
– Blacks – Whites
– Emergency service providers – violent protesters
– Hispanics – non-Hispanics
– Native Americans – “non-native Americans” 
– North-south
– East-west 
– Red – blue
– Hard on crime – soft on crime
– Homeless and unemployed – people with homes and jobs
– Free drugs – no drugs
– Rural – urban
– White males – the world
– Critical race theory – traditional education
– LGBTQ – anti-LGBTQ
– Pro-trans – anti-trans
– Binary gender– non-binary gender
– Progressive far-left – alternative far-right
– Conspiracy theorists – government supporters
– Left-leaning media – right-leaning media
– Fascists – anti-fascists
– Open borders – closed borders
– Woke warriors – anti-woke warriors
– Rewrite history – traditional history
– Climate believers – climate doubters

I think you get the idea. Many of these divisions have existed for decades without much of the current turmoil, but the need to drastically counter any new or existing group appears more significant than ever. While it’s OK to be skeptical of the moral panic brewing in many parts of the political spectrum, is it wise to make anti-anything the center of your identity? First, it was the woke warriors, and now it’s the anti-woke warriors. A whole lot of weird stuff is going on. The “Harper’s Letter” in 2020 pointed some of this out. For example: “Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.” Seriously?

What happened?
Whatever happened to free, healthy discussions that universities once promoted? What happened to exposing students to opposing ideas without creating a running battle? I have a wide range of dear friends, many of whom I’ve had for several decades. They vary from flat-earthers to the far right, far left and just about everything in between. And I value the friendship of every one of them. We could discuss and debate, listen to each other’s arguments and perhaps agree to disagree. That’s how we remain friends today. My concern is with the younger generations, who seem to adopt a position and then attempt to shout down or cancel anyone who disagrees with them. Why I ask? Was my generation – the one that came of age in the Vietnam War, the summer of love, race riots, flower-power, rock and roll, free love and Timothy Leary (“tune in, turn on, drop out”) so different? Yes, we argued, protested, debated and criticized the older generations. But I can’t remember anything like this. Perhaps, age has dimmed my memory. I certainly hope not. Somehow, somewhere, we seemed to come together (great Beatles song) and move forward.

Where are we headed?
What will become of the United States of America? Will it remain “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” as the Pledge of Allegiance states? Reciting this pledge was mandatory when I was growing up, but students are no longer required to do so today. Why are we so divided and so polarized? Undoubtedly, fake news about controversial topics contributes significantly to political polarization. We must learn to recognize this and scrutinize our sources. We must learn to shift our rhetoric and attitudes to narrow what appears to be an ever-widening gap. Polarization is a communications problem, in my opinion. We must understand and overcome polarization to counter misinformation. We must teach students and others to engage peacefully on controversial topics, respect each other and respect the truth. We must realize that the way we’re acting today only benefits Russia, China and a few other countries. These countries are doing everything in their power to exacerbate the growing gaps and drive the wedge even further in, especially Russia.

When asked if Putin looks at the Jan. 6 hearings and sees America as being further weakened, Fiona Hill, an expert who has studied Putin more than any other Western analyst and advises the White House on its Russian and European strategy, Hill responded as follows. Yes. So does everybody, honestly. Putin is betting that the US midterm elections will undermine Biden and that by 2024, the United States will be in a great big mess. I came back from Europe just a little bit before July 4, just after the Supreme Court ruling on Roe vs Wade, the efforts to deal with gun violence, and against the backdrop of all of the Jan. 6 hearings. Those three things were being paid very close attention to. I don’t think we fully process and how much the rest of the world feels that the United States is undercut by the manifestations of polarization and partisan infighting. So, it’s not just Jan. 6. It’s this idea that the United States is out of control. Putin feeds on this. When you see Putin trying to exploit all these hot-button issues, part of it is obviously to pit us against each other, but it’s also to make the United States look less of a leader and diminished in an international context.”

Opponents, not enemies
We must learn to see those who disagree with us as opponents – not enemies. They are good people, too. It’s hard to imagine polarization getting worse, but it is. And what about the media, especially social media? Tech companies now power our modern world and have revolutionized our media consumption. The mass media ways of communicating have fragmented into more and more niche offerings, allowing consumers to “enjoy” only those viewpoints that reinforce their own. Yes, the real culprit is algorithms designed to capture more ad revenues and attention and often mislead. This is, unfortunately, usually achieved by promoting extremist and misleading content. Social media feeds on itself, often making users feel angrier and more disenchanted. Perhaps what most destressed me about my return home was the number of homeless people and unemployed. How could this happen in one of the world’s richest and most powerful countries? The country that I idolized as a young person while growing up. The country that once offered so many opportunities. How did this happen? Why did this happen? And more importantly, how can we fix it?

“United we stand – divided we fall”
The US has an arduous struggle ahead, but I’m naturally an optimist. I believe we can narrow this gap and come together again. I believe we can fix this. But to do this, everyone will need to work for the greater good. We’re going to have to compromise and be flexible. We’ll have to learn that most of us can’t have everything we want at the expense of those who have little or nothing. We must come together and work hard to understand those who think differently. We must look for solutions, not scapegoats. This does NOT mean that we must deny our past, erase our history and ignore our past mistakes. We must remember that those who came before us lived and worked under different values. We should focus energy, time and effort on learning from the past. And most of all, the younger generations must remember that one day future generations may hold them accountable for their current actions. I’ve written this post knowing well that it’s controversial and may anger one side or the other. But that’s OK. I’m willing to listen to constructive criticism, as we all should. There’s much to do. As Winston Churchill said in 1941: “United we stand – divided we fall.” That still holds true today.