1980. I was nineteen years old when Ronald Reagan ran for president. It was the first election in which I could vote, and I did. For the Gipper.
A lot changed during the past 37 years and I passed through a lot of phases: my teenage Pat Robertson Speaks For Jesus/Jesus is a Republican phase; the Copious Amounts of Tequila post-Pat Robertson phase; the more recent I Can’t Believe Our New Prez Is Such a %&*#! Tool phase. But before I escaped that last phase, my Four Steps of Trump rehabilitation phase:
Step One: Reality. Reality is a monster. Reality is Bernie Sanders being cheated out of the nomination. Reality is him losing to a woman more corrupt and less likable than him. Reality is having to choose between The Unlikeable One and It. Reality is It winning.
Step Two: Despair. You can’t change elections. You can’t put on a pink pussy hat and protest your way back from an election. You can’t avoid the news for days on end and expect to return to a different outcome. You can’t undo what has been done. No, despair is knowing the Titanic’s going down and that the best you can hope for is Rose floating by you on a door. Adios, Leonardo.
Step Three: Pessimism. Pessimism is sitting around all day in your pink pussy cap and briefs. Pessimism is tweeting and bitching and for variety mixing the two. And pessimism is useless. You can’t give up. You can never give up. So you move on.
Step Four: Pragmatism. Let’s Dig Deeper Into Pragmatism
I’ve been a political junkie since 1976. I turned 15 the year Jimmy Carter showed up. Jimmy was honest, friendly, a fellow Southerner who got himself elected on a platform of integrity and who walked down Pennsylvania Avenue. No limo just feet. No president had done that before him. I was a kid and all I knew about politics was what my Yellow Dog dad taught me (condensed: don’t trust Republicans). But I had internalized An Evening With John Denver like it was oxygen, so I knew that “real” was a really big deal, and I knew that Jimmy Carter was real, and I wept at those feet. My political christening.
The two sides of the aisle were, like now, disagreeable back then. The left and right have always been disagreeable. Yet they talked. Examples? It was the GOP that pushed that Republican crook Nixon out of office. And during the height of the Reagan backlash (maybe because of that backlash), the Democratic Speaker of the House shared a weekly happy hour with the Republican president. And when Reagan overstepped his bounds and funded South American rebels with the sales of weapons to Iran, the Democratic Congress spoke up but moved on.
That was politics. That was being a rational human being carrying out your elected duty. But the two sides don’t work together like that anymore, and for that there’s a lot of blame floating around: Conservatives blame Carter, Bill Clinton’s dick (and Hillary’s), and Obama; Liberals blame Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and Bush II aka (another Dick) Cheney. But it took more than politicians to get us to this point. It took Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, talk radio, the internet.
And it took us.
Three decades. That’s how long the left and the right have been whaling on each other like white trash exes in the Walmart cammo aisle. We tweet (angrily). We Facebook (angrily). We comment at the bottom of web pages (angrily). But we never discuss our governance rationally, because meaningful and necessary conversations are impossible in this climate. And attempting to cross that line with people we know can introduce the kind of toxins that kill relationships we’ve cherished for years. We are intolerant. We have lost the ability to listen, to reason, to compromise. We have most of all lost our immunity to the sting of opposing ideas. Our anger is too deep.
Pushed by non-stop talk radio, cable news, and social media, we have pressed beyond diverse to divided, like every great nation before its fall. And that makes me wonder how close we are to killing our fellow citizens because of their political differences. It sometimes feels like that sort of thing must surely have begun and that it simply isn’t being reported. The bitterness between us is that palatable. And I think 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.
Consider your first reaction to what I write next. Register your second reaction, as well. Ready? Here we go: America should split into two countries, one conservative and one liberal.
What was your first reaction? Your second? Let me tell you mine.
Every time I’ve entertained the prospect of a not-so-United States — a liberal America (let’s say in the northern half of the States) and a conservative America (down in good ol’ Dixie) — my first reaction is “That’s crazy.” But my second reaction is calm. My entire body relaxes, the kind of relaxation you feel from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Real relaxation.
What if, as a liberal, I could live in a country where we base our laws on science, where religion is respected not a battering ram, where the poor are educated and lifted up, and all of us are guaranteed medicine? What if these stupid battles with the Tea Party ended and we woke-up each morning without resentment, without the fear of yet another Cheney-Bush or Trumpian-style presidency, without fracking polluting our drinking water or right wing evangelicals trying to install Christian Sharia law “like the Founders intended?” 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 fellow countrymen? You know, what if we got a divorce?
I’m not saying I think this is the solution to what we’re now facing, but I am asking if it might be. Is it time we go our separate ways? It is time Conservatives were free to draft a constitution that guaranteed a free handgun to every living human (born and unborn — I’m sure the Baptists and NRA would rubber stamp a fetus’s right to bear arms). And what if Liberals were free to enshrine universal healthcare and education as a birthright? What if our northern federal document read “Love whomever you want” and our southern exes were allowed to be as bigoted as they wished? What if we happily waved goodbye and started living our lives again in peace?