War! The republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless president, Donald Trump. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.
Sounds familiar, right? Besides essentially being the opening crawl to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (one of my favorites — that’s right, haters), those few sentences could easily describe the state of the country.
Ever since Donald Trump’s inauguration a little over a month ago, there has been no shortage of newsworthy incidents further dividing the country: protests, an immigration ban, protests, controversial Cabinet appointees, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer saying crazy stuff, General Flynn’s resignation, Russia, President Trump “going to war” with the news media, and more.
These episodes show no signs of letting up.
But how long can we withstand this?
This being my first article for OUTSET, I want it to be informative as much as it is an introduction to me. I write about what I care about, as do my fellow contributors. So, I think some quick background is in order.
I’m a filmmaker, originally from St. Louis, Missouri (miz-er-ee, not miz-er-uh). I did my undergrad in Waco, Texas, and I now live in Los Angeles for work. These polar opposite places inform who I am, and what I’ve heard recently in all three places shocks me to my core.
- “Betsy DeVos is a f****ng b***h.”
- “Drink those liberal, snowflake tears.”
- “The problem is that half the country is backwards and stupid.”
- “They want to destroy this country.”
But one statement in particular gives me pause. In all the conversations I’ve had with people across the country (East coast, Midwest, South, and West coast), this statement has proven universal no matter the person’s ideology.
Inevitably, almost every discussion about the country’s current state ends this way:
“I think we’re headed toward a civil war.”
And, therefore, we should all reflect on our part in where we are.
Are we headed toward civil war?
Within the last year, articles have popped up over different outlets (Salon, Huffington Post, RealClear Politics) about the inevitably of a second civil war. In fact, some argue we’re already in a civil war, albeit a nonviolent one.
All these articles, though, fail to actually grasp and articulate what is at hand. Each writer comes from a perspective that views the other side as “evil” and “backward” in its own way.
For the right, the left must be defeated because it fundamentally misreads America and its ideals. For the left, the right must be defeated because it threatens to regress all cultural and societal advances of the last century.
But is it so simple?
If we reach a civil war, it will not have happened because the right or the left is inherently more evil than the other; it will happen because both the right and the left insist on seeing the other as being motivated by nefarious goals. After all, both “sides” want what they view as best for the country. But each refuses to acknowledge or even recognize its flaws.
The right houses a nationalistic, xenophobic, and racist element that desperately wants to cling to the old social hierarchy. The left eschews any and all spirituality in an effort to secularize everything (we can’t offend anyone) and, in its zeal to teach about privilege, has alienated multiple groups who don’t see that privilege at work.
In today’s climate, if you disagree with someone (and this is true of elements on both sides), they’re not only wrong, but quite often evil. I’ve seen this among my friends, coworkers, and family whenever I voice an opinion (as a libertarian) that straddles both sides. The most infamous example of this being my refusal to vote for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Friends and family on the right told me I was essentially voting for Hillary, while friends and family on the left told me I was essentially voting for Donald Trump.
I think Anakin Skywalker summed up this mindset best: “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.” (HINT: You don’t want to be a Sith Lord.)
How did we get here?
It’s quite easy, as some of the aforementioned articles do, to blame Donald Trump for what’s going on. After all, his presidency has been nothing short of a hellish dumpster fire so far. And that’s putting it generously.
However, blaming Donald Trump is too black and white. Trump is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. In fact, I’d argue he’s the perfect symbol for the division. He’s all our ugliness and inability to understand or empathize shoved right into our faces. And we absolutely hate it.
Books could be written about how we got here, and I suspect many will be over the next four-plus years. But the simplest way to explain everything is polarization. Over the past two decades, we have watched as each political party has slowly but surely carved out its own niches among the American people.
Republicans went for the rural and Christian voters, focusing on the Midwest and the South, while Democrats have concentrated their efforts on the urban and minority voters. Of course this has always been how political parties functioned, but the rural vs. urban divide has grown considerably, and once we stop seeing people as ideological groups rather than individuals, we lose the ability to empathize.
I’ve seen this in all three places I’ve lived. People generalize and stereotype entire groups of people because they live differently or believe differently. It happens every day in St. Louis, Waco, and even (gasp) Los Angeles.
We’ve got to get beyond all this. It’s killing our country. Worse, it’s destroying our humanity.
Is civil war avoidable?
Of all the annoying slogans from this past year (and there have been many – Make America Great Again, Drain the swamp, etc.), one perfectly sums up how disingenuous and self-righteous we’re all being with ourselves.
“Love trumps hate.”
Of course love is far stronger than hate. But it’s so much harder to love than it is to hate. It’s easy to love people who agree with you. I could march all day to this slogan with people who agree with me. But ask me to stand with people whose views not only contradict mine but also dislike me? Nope. Can’t do it. I suspect most can’t either.
The kind of love we need right now is unconditional; the kind that’s patient, kind, forgiving, and never fails. After all, short of mass genocide (which I hope no one wants), we still all have to live alongside each other.
In 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church titled “Loving Your Enemies.” King meditates on the meaning of love and how exactly we love our enemies, something which feels just as relevant today. He ends the sermon with these words:
“So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, ‘I love you. I would rather die than hate you.’ And I’m foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed.”
Yes, civil war is avoidable, but only if we change course and learn to truly and unconditionally love one another. That means finding it within yourself to not hate the family member who voted for Trump or the Muslim family who moved in across the street.
We should all strive to rather die than to hate each other. If not, we risk our own destruction.