Mushrooms on the horizon
You seem to say
Nothing can be something
Dominates the season
— Lyrics to Round by Public Image Ltd.
Last night at Walmart, I saw a bumper sticker that rattled me. I’m a Republican because we can’t all be on welfare. This morning, when I woke up, I felt disjointed and uneasy. It took while to pinpoint the source. The Russian slaughter of Ukrainians? Mounting evidence of the intentionality of January sixth? Book banning in schools across the nation? Oh right, that bumper sticker. This snarky message illustrates a rapidly growing trend that is ruining America and the world: the demonization of the other.
History isn’t my bag. At my college, they required students to take a list of core classes: English, math, science, history, language and physical education. We could opt out of one of them. To my friends’ astonishment, I opted out of history. “What are you doing?” they said, “history is the easiest class of the bunch.” Not for me. My memory selectively sucks. I can retain movie dialogue for decades, the date of the French Revolution? Forget it. I’m just not interested. Browsing the book-stacks of my brain, when you come upon the history section, you’ll find bare shelves. So take my historical analysis with a grain of salt.
Our modern political dysfunction started with Newt Gingrich’s stupid “Contract with America.” It changed the face of political discourse in America. In 1994 as the world wide web got off the ground, my coworker Dennis called me into his office. “Wanna see something cool?” He showed me a chat room, something I’d never heard of before. Some anonymous guy, somewhere else in the world, began a conversation with Dennis about Bill Clinton. After about fifteen seconds of back-and-forth discussion, Dennis wrote: So you know Hillary’s a lesbian, right? I was there when internet trolling was invented. This is what Newt Gingrich wrought.
I’m a progressive, a lefty, a lib, so my bias makes me think this is a one-sided problem. The Republican party adopts talking points that ignore the truth. Democrats stole the election. Anthony Fauci wants to take away your rights. People speaking out against Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ bill are pedophiles. Only Democrats are on welfare. Yesterday, I read a blog that placed the blame for rising gas prices directly on Biden and Harris, another Republican talking point. This is all nonsense. But if you say it enough times and put it all over Facebook, it gains traction.
It works so well that Vladimir Putin has started doing it. The Ukraine is a growing Nazi threat. Or… they were preparing to attack Russia, we are simply protecting ourselves. Watching America, Putin realized he can say anything he wants to justify his invasion. Most of Russia, it seems, has bought it.
Yesterday, President Zelenskyy warned the world that Putin quite possibly will detonate a nuclear bomb soon. Personally, I think this is a foregone conclusion. Russia will continue to struggle with its invasion; Putin will become frustrated and embarrassed; he’ll nuke Kyiv. Or… Putin’s invasion will gain traction; the world, unable to sit on the sidelines any longer, will join the fight; Putin will nuke Kyiv. Or… Putin will simply nuke Kyiv.
The world I occupy works only through cooperation. In America, every four or eight years, the president passes the reigns of the nation to a new leader, and often to one with diametrically opposed ideas. Nations, by and large, respect boundary lines. Countries with nuclear weapons understand they only exist as a deterrent. Why do political parties and countries, cooperate? Because everyone understands that while the world is far from perfect, it works.*
As recently as four years ago, even Kim Jong Un understood this, and he let his tiff with Trump rest. Now Putin, the keeper of the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, believes he can declare a sovereign nation evil and attack without consequence—so far, it looks like he’s right.
Back to America. We need to rediscover how to argue without pointing fingers and name calling. We all simply hate each other, and common ground will never be found from this starting point. Indira Gandhi famously said: You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist. She’s right, of course. Our demonizing discourse will escalate, our society will continue to segregate until we take the time to understand one another. And maybe I can stop some of my own finger-pointing too.
* Jeff, you’re coming at this from a very western, Euro-centric, privileged point of view.” I fully agree. I started that paragraph with ‘the world I occupy.’ Plus, the stability of wealthy nations is part of the global glue that keeps things from disintegrating.