Is it possible to suffer from partisan whiplash? Does political trauma classify as a medical condition? Can oppositional behavior disorder include uncooperative acts and negative words aimed at elected opponents?
These are legitimate questions at a time when our country has been cleaved by dogmatic and divisive behavior. The vitriol has gotten so loud and so ridiculous that I’m finding the hermit life suddenly appealing.
Twice in the span of days I’ve sat in someone’s living room, listening to one group bash the other. Thank goodness conservatives and liberals, Trumpers and anti-Trumpers, were not in the same place at the same time. That might’ve led to fisticuffs.
My first inkling of the bigotry on both sides came during the presidential campaign, in the form of emails from readers. Regardless of the topic, irrespective of my stand, the insults from both squads bordered on the alarming. Soon after the election, the rage spiked, as was to be expected. Few people had predicted the outcome.
Naively I thought — actually, I prayed — the viciousness would simmer down. But it hasn’t, not by a long shot. Last month I found myself sitting in the home of a young California family, trying mightily to counter their portrayal of Trump supporters as ignorant, undereducated racists. Let me be clear: I did not vote for Trump; never would, not in a million years, not if he was the last man standing. I also think that a significant portion of his supporters wish there were fewer brown and black people around and that the societal clock could be wound back to an era where coal was king and life was free of all government regulations, including those that protect us.
But … but I also know people who did vote for the man (aargh!), people who are well-educated, people who are not ignorant, people who are not racist. They believe differently than I do; and though accepting those differences remains a bitter pill to swallow, I gulp hard when I must. I suppose they do the same in return. I cling to the notion that when we focus on the lunatic fringe, we demonize and oversimplify. We reduce our opponent to a caricature not worthy of attention.
Of course President Donald Trump’s antics haven’t helped bring us together, but neither have our own words or behavior. Just last week, a Texas councilwoman was charged with disorderly conduct after shouting obscenities at a group of teen girls because of a Trump shirt. The girls were waiting in line to buy cookies, when the adult, a term I use very loosely here, reportedly screamed, “Grab ’em by the p---y, girls!” The councilwoman has since apologized, but public apologies are a dime a dozen these days.
Wherever we stand on the issues, however we feel about the guy in the White House and the people in Congress, many of us want to find a path toward national reconciliation. Or do we?
A new study from University of Miami physicist Neil Johnson reveals that, as Americans consume more news, we also exist in “a state of pure polarization.” The extremes to the left and right currently outnumber the moderates. Scary.
Politics isn’t the only way we segregate ourselves, either. Another study, this one on domestic migration, confirms what we’ve long suspected. We’re sorting ourselves according to income and education, so that the most affluent and young move to expensive coastal metros, the middle ground to cheaper Sunbelt cities, and the less advantaged remain stuck in the Rush Belt. In short, birds of a feather flock together.
But while this may be comfortable and safe, it’s hardly conducive to the hard work of keeping America great, of offering opportunities to everyone, of leading our children into a better future.
Because when we refuse to leave that well-twigged nest, when we decline to listen to birdsong in an unfamiliar key, we miss the opportunity to test our wings and soar, soar away.