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The Divided State of America

What happened to the better angels of our nature?

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Have you noticed that no one disagrees anymore?

To disagree implies that you respect the other person’s opinion but that you have a contrary view.

Americans today no longer respect anyone else’s opinion.

The Internet and social media have made it possible for everyone to live inside their own personal safe space where they never have to listen to other points of view. The Internet provides thousands of places to get information, allowing each person to get their information from sources that reinforce their already existing views. And social media enables us to be in regular contact with scores of “friends” who share and reinforce those views even more.

When people are exposed only to information and ideas that reinforce their own views and are not exposed to other information and points of view, we become convinced that our views are the only ones that make sense. And we come to believe that anyone who has a different view either is stupid and ignorant or has a malicious agenda.

So, we don’t disagree anymore. We don’t listen and consider other points of view. We get angry, we confront, and we attack.

And it’s so easy to do that these days because most of our discourse is on-line where we never have to look the other person in the eye. Ever wonder why people do rude things while driving that they would never do anywhere else? That’s the reason. But now everyone on social media is that irritated rush-hour driver who never has to look the other guy in the eye.

So, when we know we’re right and that everyone else is wrong and a danger to our country and society, what do we do? We close ranks. We become xenophobic and elect xenophobic demagogues to high office. And we cheer them on when they express the anger that we’re feeling.

We conclude that all liberals are communists or that all conservatives are Nazis. If you oppose liberals you are a white supremacist. If you oppose conservatives you are anti-American. And everyone knows that you can’t trust or work with traitors or Nazis.

And so, we can’t get anything done to improve the country because that would require working cooperatively with people that we now know don’t just have a different point of view but who are evil and out to destroy the country and everything we hold dear.

But, really, who cares if we get anything done? What really matters is that we’ve got our high-profile champions out there projecting our anger and getting in the jabs and punches that we wish we could deliver ourselves!

It’s no longer about governing. It’s about taking out the bad guys – and everyone who’s not with us is agin’ us.

And our American ranks are not just divided by politics. We are now at a perilous racial impasse.

Most black people are frustrated and angry that they still face unfair and unjust obstacles and difficulties that white people never have to deal with, so many black people have become jaded and have concluded that law enforcement is targeting them and that the majority of white people bear them malice.

Most white people bear no ill will whatsoever toward black people and resent that so many black people believe they hold a malice that they do not feel. But most white people also don’t understand that the black experience in America is still considerably more difficult than the white experience because we thought that ending Jim Crow solved those problems forever. The black experience is not part of our experience, so we remain blissfully ignorant.

People of different races used to discuss our differences and our commonalities. We used television shows, movies, classes, community forums, and personal relationships to try to gain better understanding and move forward together. Some of that effort was naive, but most of it was sincere.

Those days are gone. Now we see black athletes who are so frustrated that they show disrespect to the American flag to draw attention to the unresolved issues in the black community, and we see black people who assert that anyone who opposes that action is a racist. And we see white people who say that anyone who supports what those athletes have done is anti-American without making any effort to understand the source of the underlying frustration that led to those actions.

I’m as guilty as anyone. I have treated people who dissented from my views with condescension. I have reacted in anger at things said and actions taken by people “on the other side.”

But I’m trying to be better. I’m trying to be aware of what’s happened to our society and to reject those dangerous impulses. I’m trying to listen with an open mind to other views. I’m trying to ease dissenters out of their anger by treating them with a respect they haven’t earned in order to show that I can be reasonable and motivate them to do the same.

I am far from perfect, but I am trying.

Our nation is fracturing. Everyone is talking at or past each other, but no one is listening. No one is open to considering other points of view anymore. And without sincere and meaningful engagement, our nation is fracturing.

Unfortunately, we cannot look to our national leaders to guide us out of this morass. Our elected representatives do indeed represent what we as a society have become. We have a president who is a product and leader of the very close-minded anger and finger-pointing that is dividing the country, and we have leaders in the other party who spread malicious lies to discredit him and his supporters as “Nazis” and “white supremacists.”

In days past, we were blessed with moral leaders to help unite and guide us to be our best. We had a George Washington, an Abraham Lincoln, an FDR, an Eleanor Roosevelt, a JFK, a Martin Luther King, a Ronald Reagan.

Today we have a vacuum of moral leadership. So, we must take on the job ourselves. We must decide, each one of us, to resist the temptation to stay in a bubble isolated from other points of view. We must resolve to clamp our mouths shut in the face of dissent and force open our ears and our hearts to sincerely consider other points of view. We must strive to admit when we’re wrong and be humble and respectful when we believe we’re right. We must choose to give others the benefit of the doubt that their motivations are as upstanding as our own.

Then, and only then, can we realize the world envisioned by President Lincoln when he said in his first inaugural address,

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Ken Falkenstein

Author: Ken Falkenstein

Ken Falkenstein is the Managing Editor of Committed Conservative and brings a wealth of experience and expertise in public affairs to the job. Ken served in the U.S. Army in the last years of the Cold War as a Russian linguist for military intelligence and the NSA. After leaving the Army, he earned his degree in Secondary Education from Old Dominion University, where he also wrote a popular column in the student newspaper.

Upon graduation, Ken worked as a Legislative Aide to two Republican members of the Virginia House of Delegates. Ken also served as Corresponding Secretary of the Young Republican Federation of Virginia, managed several successful political campaigns, and managed governmental affairs operations for a local Realtor association.

In 1995, Ken moved to Washington, DC to serve as a Legislative Assistant to Sen. John Warner (R-VA). While working for Sen. Warner, Ken attended law school at night, earning his J.D. with honors from the George Mason University School of Law (n/k/a The Antonin Scalia Law School). Since that time, Ken has practiced as a civil litigation attorney, including serving for three years as an Associate City Attorney for the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Ken previously was a contributor to the highly-regarded political blog Bearing Drift and was a weekly co-host of The Steve Batton Radio Program. In 2016, Ken ran unsuccessfully for the Virginia Beach School Board. Ken is also a former President of the Down Syndrome Association of Hampton Roads.

Ken now lives outside of Denver, Colorado with his wife, Kim, and three sons, Adam, Dylan, and Joshua, who has Down syndrome. Ken’s writing is motivated and informed primarily by his concern for his kids’ future.

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