Surely people on both sides of the political spectrum have disliked and bad-mouthed one another for generations. This negative aspect of the democratic process is baked into our nation’s founding. The famous dirty campaigning of old friends, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, in which a president ran against his vice president, included some of the most vicious hatchet men and smear tactics imaginable – people served jail time for their slanderous activities in that race. Perhaps the nation was divided then, as it was when soon-to-be president Abe Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech, but there is something particularly unsteady about the state of affairs today. The current American divide seems about as cavernous as it could possibly be. Civil-war-style-division. Politicians-body-slamming-journalists-level-enmity. Cultural appropriation policing run amok. We are at one another’s throats at the mention of the word, “Trump.”
On a recent episode of the podcast “Give and Take” with Scott Jones, esteemed conservative journalist David French of the National Review said, “We don’t even understand the other side.” We are operating within “the law of group polarization. When people of like mind gather the common expression of their shared views gravitate to the extreme.” French teases out a Pew Research study that found that American polarization has become “negative polarization” in that our division isn’t about ideas or values, but about just not liking the other side. Democrats don’t hate Republican ideas, they hate Republicans. Republicans don’t hate Democratic ideas, they hate Democrats. We are post ideological and simply afraid of what the other side will do to us if in power. This is a scary place to be as a nation.
“Conflict entrepreneurs,” as Yale law professor Dan Kahan describes them, promulgate our differences in the media; they run the breaking news cycle from crisis to crisis to keep us scared and isoloated. Investigative journalism cannot keep up with our demand for “gotcha” stories that buttress elementary rebuttals about libtards being snowflakes or all republicans being backward racists because they voted for President Trump. We want to bash each other for the least sinister infraction, and it’s tearing our nation apart.
Our religious leaders are brazen in their political affinities, one way or the other, and they are not only as divided as ever in delivering a unified witness of the Gospel, they are tapping into the call-out culture at the highest levels. Christianity in America has become a laughing stock, even to many Christians.
Patriotism is at an all-time low, while nationalism is at an all-time high. As French concluded in his conversation with Jones, America needs a national repentance from our tribalism. Blood and soil nationalism that reveres race, natural assets, and homogeneity has replaced American patriotism, which unified all of us around our ideas, values, and the founding principles of the Declaration and Constitution. We have Americans applauding – even electing – a politician who enacts violence against a free press. This is not patriotism in any sense of the word.
New York Times columnist and bestselling author, David Brooks, wrote in a May 26, 2017 editorial that from the four main American narratives, we are arriving at two. The first group, which he calls the “mercantilists,” are tribal and view America as a power in competition with rivals. This group envisions America as a new Rome – “a mighty fortress in a dangerous world.” The second group, the “talented community,” sees America as the “greatest laboratory for the cultivation of human abilities.” Diversity, meritocracy, and open trade propel society toward greatness. The talented community sees America as a new Athens, “a creative crossroads leading an open and fundamentally harmonious world.”
So, where have the moderate, intelligent, kind Christian American patriots gone? The world is indeed a dangerous place, but it is also filled with enormously talented and beautiful people who would help make America great. We need level headed and kind, Constitution loving individuals to help lead the way. I include “Christian” in my description, because that’s my main audience, and it is how I identify; it is also the religion of 72% of Americans. But by it, what I really mean – faithful, patient, awe-inspired, and devoted people of any religious background. Where are you? And, just because I’m speaking to religious folk, doesn’t preclude the agnostic, atheist, or “none.” I’ll take a reasonable secular humanist over a radicalized religious zealot ten times to Sunday. The problems remain the same.
Have we given up on freedom? How about kindness? Have we forgotten that we are commanded to love and feed our enemies and those who persecute us? Have we forgotten what Jesus, St. Augustine, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Paine, Abigail Adams, and Lincoln have all emphatically impressed upon the fate of nations? A house divided cannot stand. May the better heads prevail in the years to come! Let this be an invitation to you all to join the conversation in creating a future for the people of this great country that lifts each of us up in the dignity bestowed upon us all, equally, by our creator.