The attempt to send crude pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and liberal-leaning CNN Wednesday was shocking but hardly surprising. It is the inevitable progression of an American society unhinged by divisiveness and incivility. And, predictably, the aftermath has not brought people together but set them squabbling about whether or not President Donald J. Trump can be blamed; who’s more uncivil, Democrats or Republicans; and the continuing whataboutism that relitigates past grievances.
Can you blame Trump? Absolutely. He likes to “tell it like it is,” inciting violence against “Crooked Hillary” and the “Fake News Media,” then thinks he can get all presidential by talking in his low, slow indoor voice about unifying. Ah, if only it were that easy, but it isn’t. You don’t ratchet up the rhetoric and then go all “Kumbaya” on everyone. Doesn’t work that way.
As for which group is more divisive, I have to give the edge to the Repubs. The sheer, cold contempt of former President Barack Obama by the Republican members of Congress; the lies about death panels being part of Obamacare; the birtherism fueled by the right; the disgusting descriptions of Michelle Obama as an ape; the libelous depiction of Hillary Clinton as a child molester, which led a North Carolina man to shoot a gun in a Washington D.C. pizza parlor; Michael Flynn’s “lock her up”; Charlottesville; “snowflake”; Trump’s praising Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte for assaulting a reporter; Trump’s scurrilous epithets for women and opponents – all of this outweighs Dems interrupting Sen. Ted Cruz’s dinner and a left-winger’s attempted assassination of Congressman Steve Scalise – although I’m opposed to violence and bad manners.
In the new book “Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal,” Sen. Ben Sasse – a conservative whose anti-tariff views I respect – suggests that the divisiveness is the result of a loneliness that grew out of the rending of social institutions, everything from churches to Little League teams.
I’m not convinced that communities are fraying so much as the digital revolution has created new communities that depend on shared political views for their core rather than religious beliefs, ethnicities or even hobbies. The ultimate shared view is the one that enables you to say “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” – has to be, because, let’s face it, we have nothing else in common with most of the people we’re meeting on the internet. That means the bond is one of hate, a hate used to entertain.
Now, sometimes it’s not a hardcore hate. As a New York Yankee fan, I “hate” the Boston Red Sox and can never root for them. (Go Dodgers.) But I don’t want the Red Sox to be harmed. I just want them to be annihilated on the field.
Yet, there are people who not only wish harm to their “enemies” but act on it. And I think that has less to do with a sense of community than the failure of modern education and the triumph of emotionalism over rationality.
Education is the key to this, because it teaches you to think critically, and when you can think critically, you are less likely to be swayed by a demagogue and threatened by someone else’s viewpoint.
Fear is the great driver of modern society and fear stems from ignorance.