Middle East: We’re in battle with a twenty-first century Vietcong. Middle Class: Our jobs have left for overseas. Middle Ground: There is none.
Middle is a problem.
America’s foundation is crumbling. That means infrastructure, yes. But our problem is deeper than concrete. It’s us. We’re pulling apart.
Read social media. Listen to the radio. Watch cable news. Remember “mutual respect?” No, I don’t either. It’s been a long time.
Republican friends, the vehement type, the ones who are hard right, believe government is out to get us, believe it’s killing our jobs, believe Democrats hate America just like their president hates America. In that respect, they’re fools, and yet my buddies. They think the same of me.
We’ve known each other forever, my buddies and me, shared laughs over beers, checked out women in short skirts at the bars, amped up each other’s courage when we were too afraid to go talk to the cute one, “Quit being a pussy and ask her!” But that was college. Been years. Now we’re older. Wives, kids, house payments. Life is more complicated. Blame easier to hurl.
Yet we’ve got to fix this, get the country under control before it’s too late. But we can’t, because we’re fighting over the wheel. “Let go of that goddamned steering wheel!” we scream. At each other. As we careen toward the ditch. But no one lets go. “Those fools,” we all yell, “are gonna kill us!” And about that the odds are stacking. It’s not looking good.
People don’t suffer fools. And the other ones are fools. So we’re fracturing. As a nation. As friends. For some, even as family. And we have been for a while.
- Obama? His election exacerbated our division, exploded us into factions not seen since the civil war — or at least since the Edmund Pettus Bridge — even before his oath of office.
- Bush 43? His Supreme Court coronation and the wars that followed surely widened the rift between us. But they weren’t what opened the fissure.
- Clinton? Disliked by Republicans and some Dems, relentlessly investigated, wrongly impeached, certainly immoral and self-serving. But this didn’t start with him, either.
- Bush 41? Too banal to have caused anything.
- Reagan? Worshipped and demonized, without question responsible for the deaths of both the middle class and the USSR. But our anger was birthed before him.
Our split was a long time coming. Before Fox News. Before Rush Limbaugh. Before William F. Buckley. Before Nixon. Before Goldwater. Before the John Birch Society. Before the hippies and the yippies and the beatniks and the Vietnam War. Truth be told, I think it has always been here. I think this is who we are. Divided, right brain-left brain, both, the cautious and the aspirational. The “yes we cans” and the “but maybe we should nots.” The dogmatic and the free thinkers. The lovers of science and the prayers to God. This is who we were and who we will always be.
It feels like we’re at our end. The red lights are flashing. The crossing guard has dropped down in front of the tracks. A train. But no one’s at the wheel while everyone’s at the wheel. And no one’s hitting the brakes. I write about this incessantly because it feels imminent. Like at any moment we’re going to crash and burn. And maybe it’s always been that way. Maybe we’ve always felt like we’re on the verge of our demise because maybe we are. Maybe that’s how democracy works.
Yet as different as we’ve been, we have somehow survived — because we’ve met in the middle, at that center yellow line, sometimes in the left lane, sometimes the right, but always on the road.
But things seem different now. It’s harder to steer, the middle harder to find. And so we’ve angled toward the ditch.
And still we’re accelerating.