1980. I was nineteen years old. Ronald Reagan was running for president. It was the first election in which I could vote. And I did. For the Gipper.
Things have changed since 1980. I have passed through my Pat Robertson Speaks For Jesus, and BTW Jesus is a Republican phase. I have even passed through my I Can’t Believe This Guy Is Such a F*cking Tool post-Trump election rage. Yet before I stepped out of that last fire, I had to come face-to-face with some harsh reality. And reality being what it is these days, that took me directly from rage to the heart of pessimism. But pessimism is useless; you can’t give up, you can never give up. So next came pragmatism. “What about optimism?” you ask. “Were you at any point optimistic?” My answer is no, I got hung up on pragmatism.
You’ve noticed if you’ve been watching Washington since 1992 that the two sides of the aisle don’t talk anymore. Sure, for a few years during Clinton, and despite the Republicans inspecting his penis with a magnifying glass, Brother Bill and the GOP passed legislation. But even as Bubba and the conservatives were giving big banks the right to cheat us out of our homes and arranging to have millions of black men hauled off in chains, right-wing animosity was spreading like a wildfire across the United States. Fox News, although still new to the block, had nonetheless found its conservative audience, and along with talk radio built those folks into a whining, resentful, pathetic mob always victimized and unwaveringly angry — at their rights being stolen, at the flag not being respected, at “Happy Holidays,” at the lack of prayer in schools, at the EPA for protecting their water, at taxes on the rich, at French fries. (Those are just the highlights, and doesn’t include who they were mad at: homosexuals, teachers, union members, atheists, college professors, Hollywood, George Soros and, obviously, France.) And the effect of animosity like that on human beings is like the effect of winter highway salts on Chevrolet Chevettes. It’s corrosive. It can eat you up. And it did.
Since Bill Clinton and certainly since George W. Bush, we liberals and the conservatives have been treating each other like scorned ex-lovers crossing paths at Walmart. We tweet (angrily). We Facebook (angrily). We comment at the bottom of web pages (angrily). But we don’t discuss our national politic. Meaningful and necessary conversions have become impossible in this climate. Crossing that line now introduces toxins that can kill relationships we’ve had with people whom we have known and liked for years — and in some cases for a lifetime. We can no longer tolerate the other side’s views. We have lost our immunity to the sting of opposing ideas. We have lost the ability to listen, to reason, and then to compromise on political solutions; the hatred is too deep. With the help of cable news and non-stop social media, we have reached beyond diverse to divided, like Syria, like Bosnia, like every great nation before its fall. And that makes you wonder: How close are we, too, to citizens killing fellow citizens because their politics differe? It sometimes feels like that sort of thing must have surely already begun and that it just isn’t being reported. The bitterness between us is that palatable. And we all sense that it’s not going to get any better. It’s only going to get worse. So maybe it’s time for us to think outside the box.
I want you to consider your first reaction when you read what I write next. Register your second reaction, as well. Ready? Here we go: America should split — into two countries, one conservative, one liberal.
That’s it. What was your first reaction? Your second? Let me tell you mine.
For a few years now I’ve wondered if secession is a solution. And each time I consider the prospect of a not-so-united States of America — a liberal America (probably in the northern half of the States) and a conservative America (probably in the south) — my first reaction is “That’s crazy.” But my second reaction is calm. I feel my entire body relax. What if, as a liberal, I could live in a country where we based our laws on science, where religion was respected not used as a battering ram, where the poor were educated and lifted up and all of us had guaranteed healthcare? What if these stupid battles with the Tea Party could end and we could wake up each morning without the anger, without the fear of a yet another Cheney-Bush or Trumpian-style presidency, without fracking polluting our drinking water or right wing evangelicals trying to install a Christian Sharia law? What if we could agree to part company with those with whom we seem unable to work out our national problems? What if we could just be their friends again and not their countrymen?
Maybe it’s time we go our separate ways. Maybe it’s time we write two constitutions, one which says “Free guns for everyone” and another which says “Free medication to all who need it,” one which says “Love whomever you want” and another which includes whatever the latest anti-LBGTQ hate speech conservatives are using these days. Maybe it’s time we wave goodbye, peacefully, and start living our lives again.