Mazel tov. We’re now past the midterms of 2018. No matter how you feel about the results, you have to be glad that these elections are over. I know I am. I can’t recall a more contentious, divisive or bitter election in my lifetime.
Still, in the aftermath of it all, I think we have to recognize and embrace the obvious — that we’re a deeply divided, fractured nation. And long after Donald Trump leaves the White House, that sensibility, that anger and frustration and fury that he embodies and has exploited, will be with us.
Trumpism, like it or not, is here to stay, long after the old man and his cronies leave the roost. Now, it just has to deal with a lot more faces and voices of people of different colors, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. Folks who look different and have perspectives and ideals that these angry white guys might not agree with.
Welcome to the real world, fellas.
We tend to think of this brand of seething white male anger as something new, but maybe it always was here. Look back at the 1990s – at such seminal events as Ruby Ridge, Waco, Oklahoma City, the Unabomber and Eric Rudolph, and Columbine – and you see the seeds of the anger and fear that fuels many white males today in this country. There seems to be this feeling that our nation has spun off the rails, that nefarious groups with evil agendas (liberals, the media, Jews, women, foreigners, minorities, gays, etc.) are hijacking and destroying the political and social values that once made this country great.
And the result, tragically, is what we saw in Pittsburgh last month.
On a personal level, the first time I really noticed this political and cultural sea change was in the summer of 2016, shortly before the presidential election. I was walking through the parking lot of Quarry Lake at Greenspring with my teenage daughter on a scorching summer night, having eaten dinner at her favorite restaurant. We were discussing some trivial matter when an SUV suddenly pulled up next to us and the driver yelled something at me.
“Beg your pardon,” I said to the man, who was white and around 45. “I didn’t hear you.” I figured he was asking for directions.
The stranger angrily yelled something at me questioning why I let my daughter wear shorts that he apparently thought were too revealing. They were just regular shorts on a typical teenager. Maybe he felt she should be wearing a burka? I stared at his furious countenance for what seemed like an eternity, trying to figure out if my ears were deceiving me. It was summer. Everybody was wearing shorts.
I looked at the passenger side and noticed what I assumed was the man’s son, around 12 years old and looking rather sheepish and embarrassed by what was going on. I immediately felt immense sorrow for the kid.
Finally, I was able to summon the words, “What are you talking about? What in the hell is wrong with you?!” He screamed back, “Oh, don’t worry, I know what I’m talking about!” and sped off before I could utter another syllable. I then noticed about 15 or 20 Trump/Pence bumper stickers wallpapering his trunk.
That was my wake-up call. I realized something was in the air.
Not long ago, an old friend reached out to me via Facebook because a mutual buddy of ours wished her a happy birthday. But somehow their conversation devolved into a bitter political argument about Trump and the president’s proposal to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants. She was stunned that anyone she knew and considered a rational, intelligent person would support the Trump administration and its policies in any fashion.
It reminded me that many of us are still living in a bubble. We can unfriend or unfollow those whose politics we find abhorrent and offensive. We can stop talking altogether to friends and family members on the other side of the political chasm, because we don’t want to hear their views or rhetoric. We can argue with folks about Trump or politics in general until we’re blue (or red) in the face.
But that doesn’t change the reality that we’re now two Americas, maybe more so than any other time in our history since the Civil War. The bottom line is we have to address all of this anger, vitriol and division, and determine how to move on a more productive course so we can live together peacefully and (hopefully) respectfully.
That might sound rather quixotic, hopelessly naïve and a bit too “Kumbaya” or “snowflake” for some folks, but it’s the tachlis truth. Because demonizing and tuning out each other certainly isn’t getting us anywhere.