We hear a lot of talk about healing lately, a lot of calls for civility and unity. However, it’s not really possible at this moment in our nation’s history. Why not? Because this isn’t a recent problem caused by one campaign season. It’s a descent into division that began after WWII and has only worsened since.
We have become ever more tribal, belonging to one party or the other, and we’ve chosen to believe the shouters on our side who claim that the others are liars and frauds and criminals.
We see politicians on the left espousing radical change, which frightens those on the right who are relatively happy with the status quo. And politicians on the right demonize those who advocate for socialism, outraging those on the left who continue to be left behind by the current system.
The reality is that we don’t really want unity as much as we say we do. What we really want is for the other side to acknowledge that they’re wrong and compromise to our position.
So the unity we crave is actually complete surrender by the other party to our way of thinking. Look, for example, at the recent lockdowns by a number of states. A lot of people agree that certain restrictions need to be put in place, but they insist that the restrictions impacting them personally are unnecessary.
“Yes, certain businesses should be closed, but not ours. We’re not the problem.”
What we’re really saying is that everyone should take our side. Give us what we want and then we don’t care about the rest of it. “You can do whatever you want to those others, but just don’t mess with us.”
Add to that the fact that we can’t even agree on facts anymore and you realize the scope of the problem we face – masks don’t help; the virus is a hoax; Trump won the election. When people can’t even agree on reality, we’re in trouble.
So unity becomes impossible, because the unity that everyone wants is in their mind a recognition that they fall outside whatever costs are to be imposed. Tax those people, regulate them, impair them, require them to give or act or surrender – but leave us alone.
Unity is shared sacrifice, and at this moment in time, society seems unwilling to embrace that notion. We believe that the sacrifices being asked of us are way worse than the sacrifices being asked of others. Why should we have to give more than them? So if that’s what you want, then forget unity.
So it’s okay to keep talking about unity and healing as long as you recognize that it’s just a gossamer utopia beyond the horizon.