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Monday, June 19, 2017

OUR VIOLENT, DIVIDED COUNTRY

FBI Agents look over the crime scene

Last Wednesday a lone gunman opened fire on a congressional softball game, hitting four people and seriously wounding Representative Steve Scalise.  The shooter, James Hodgkenson, was a big supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders, and was reported to have been distraught over the election of Donald Trump.  Hodgkenson is a sad reminder that there are dangerous, crazy people on either side of the political fence, and that in a deeply divided country with easy access to guns (even for a man with a history of domestic abuse like he had), violence seems inevitable.  And with social media spreading thoughts at light speed, over the top rhetoric and outright fury can be dispensed almost too quickly.  Add to that pundits who foment hatred of the other side, from Cathy Griffith posing with a decapitated Trump head on the left, to Rush Limbaugh calling Hodgkenson a "mainstream Democratic voter" on the right, our divided nation becomes even more polarized.
While I can never condone what Hodkenson did in any shape or form, his actions reflect the sense of anger and loss that around half of the country feels due to Trump's election.  Part of the problem is that feeling of anger and loss on the left was the exact same way that the right felt when Barack Obama was president, anger which also sometimes boiled over into violence, like the shooting of Representative Gaby Giffords in 2011.  Many studies have been done in recent years on the differences between conservatives and progressives, and it would appear that there is a definite difference in brain chemistry, with conservatives having larger fear and revulsion centers.  (Putting it simply, conservatives are from Mars, progressives are from Venus).  This raises a simple question: can this union be saved?  If half the country is completely set in one way, and the other half is diametrically opposed to the first, how can we really survive as a nation?  We really do seem to live in two separate worlds; I'll be the first to admit that I can't even understand the mentality of a Trump voter, even if I have some sympathy for the coal miners and factory workers who believed his promise to bring their jobs back.
Many progressives like to point to Trump's low approval ratings as proof of how terrible he is, and while I take some cold comfort in those numbers, he still won, he probably won't be impeached any time soon, and he may even serve two terms.  That's how divided this country is, that, really no matter what, Trump will always get a significant part of the country's vote.
Years from now, historians  are really going to look back on this time with wonder; under Barack Obama, there were no great catastrophes in the country: there were no large scale terrorist attacks on our shores, no economic crashes, and job growth was slow but steady.  And yet somehow  in 2016 America turned to a man who ran a campaign in which he promised to reverse everything that Obama had been doing as president.  He repeatedly called Obama's presidency a disaster and a nightmare, and openly lied about the country's low unemployment and violent crime rates.  In essence, he wanted to erase Obama from the history books altogether implying that white male supremacy must be restored.  And somehow the country bought it, or to put it more precisely, fifty three million voters bought it.
So our country seems to wildly swaying from one direction to another, with neither side ever completely gaining the upper hand, while other countries watch in amazement.  I used to be optimistic about America's future, with demographic changes and the move to more people living in cities pointing towards a more progressive direction, but after this brutal, ugly campaign and presidency, I have to wonder.  Is there really any way that a country made up of two such different groups of people survive the way it is?  I just don't know anymore.

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