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.
A lot has changed over the past 37 years and I’ve passed through a lot of phases (my teenage Pat Robertson Speaks For Jesus, and BTW Jesus is a Republican phase, my collegiate Copious Amounts of Tequila phase, even my I Can’t Believe This New Prez Guy Is Such a %&*#! Tool 2016 post-election rage phase). But before I escaped that last phase, the Four Steps of Trump:
Stage One: Reality. Reality is a monster. Reality is Bernie Sanders was cheated out of the nomination. Reality is he lost to a woman less liked than him. Reality is I had to choose between The Unlikeable One and It. Reality is It won.
Stage Two: Despair. You can’t change elections. You can’t put on a pink pussy hat and protest your way out of an election. You can’t avoid the news for a few days and wake-up to a different outcome. Nope, despair is knowing that the Titanic is going down and that at best Leonardo dies and you don’t. Goodbye, Leonardo.
Stage Three: Pessimism. Pessimism is sitting around all day in your pink pussy cap and briefs because there’s nothing you can do. Nothing except tweet and bitch and occasionally combine the two. But pessimism is useless. You can’t give up. You can never give up. So you move on.
Stage Four: Pragmatism.
Let’s Dig Deeper Into Pragmatism
I’ve been a political junkie since 1976. I was 15 that year and had spent most of my youth listening to my father rant about Nixon. Then Jimmy Carter showed up. And he was honest, friendly, and even a fellow Southerner. Then he got elected and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue. No limo just feet. I was a kid and knew little about politics, but I had internalized my An Evening With John Denver album like it was oxygen, and I knew that “real” was a big deal. And Jimmy Carter was real. And I wept; my political christening.
Like today, two sides of the aisle were disagreeable back when I got that first taste of politics. But they still talked and they still worked things out. For instance, it was the GOP that pushed the crook Nixon out of office. And even during the height of the Reagan backlash (maybe because of that backlash), the Democratic Speaker of the House headed to the White House for happy hour with his Republican president. That was politics back then. More simply, that was being a rational human being carrying out your elected duty back then. But the two sides don’t work together like that anymore, and there’s a lot of blame floating around for that: Conservatives blame Carter, Bill Clinton’s dick (and Hillary’s), and Obama; Liberals blame Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and Bush II aka Cheney. But it took more than politicians to get us to this point. It took Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, talk radio, the internet.
Four decades. That’s how long the left and the right have been treating each other like scorned ex-lovers. We now tweet (angrily). We Facebook (angrily). We comment at the bottom of web pages (angrily). But we never discuss our governance rationally. Meaningful and necessary conversions are impossible in this climate. And attempting to cross that line introduces toxins that can kill relationships we’ve had with people whom we’ve known for years, in some cases since we were kids, in some cases since birth. (Mommy?) We are intolerant. We have lost the ability to listen, to reason, to compromise. Most of all we have lost our immunity to the sting of opposing ideas. Our anger is too deep.
Pushed by non-stop talk, 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, too, are to killing fellow citizens because they differ from us politically. It sometimes feels like that sort of thing must surely have begun and that it simply isn’t being recognized and reported. The bitterness between us is that palatable. And I think we all sense that it’s not going to get 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.
That’s it! What was your first reaction? Your second? Let me tell you mine.
For a few years 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 (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 and a smile appears on my face, the kind of smile you feel from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. The real kind.
What if, as a liberal, I could live in a country where we based our laws on science, where religion was respected not a battering ram, where the poor were educated and lifted up, and all of us were guaranteed healthcare? What if these stupid battles with the Tea Party ended and we woke each morning without that anger, without the fear of yet another Cheney-Bush or Trumpian-style presidency, without fracking polluting our drinking water or right wing evangelicals attempting to install their 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 their countrymen? You know, what if we got a divorce?
I’m not saying this is the right solution, 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 breathing mammal, while a few miles north Liberals embraced a constitution that guaranteed free medication for all who needed it? What if our northern document read, “Love whomever you want,” without controversy, while down south they were free to include in their articles whatever the in vogue hate speech was that day? What if we happily waved goodbye and started living our lives in peace?