In Writing

I hate lines. Imaginary lines on the ground, where “borders” are. Lines of divide between people, the “you like country/I like rock” ways in which we choose to separate ourselves from each other. For people like me, this is a painful time.

I often wish I could see back to how the first bands of humans lived. Sheltering against rain in caves, figuring out how to match sounds to things and feelings, eating only what they could catch or forage. I’m sure that lines existed even then, who hunts and who’s lazy, who encroached one whose mate. But, somehow, if I might give them a warning, all of history could have gone another way. I’d like to think so, anyway.

Folly, of course. Here we are, in the most divided time in my life, and no amount of wishing will change that. Scholars will be unraveling the reasons for generations – right wing radio, globalization leading to nationalism, the ubiquity of media leading to confusion about what’s fact and what’s hype, social media, backlash against the social liberalization of the country, plus reasons we haven’t fully begun to understand. Historians will get it. But, as usual, history is more painful to live than to study.

I had a thought the other day, watching an interview with miners in West Virginia in which they were explaining their Trump support, that I need to cross lines more. Understand more. Listen more. Not because they’re right – I am vehemently offended by the actions of the last week – but because shouting at each other isn’t working. I have changed no minds, and I have understood no one. I have created a line around me and those that think like me, and left a lot of people on the other side of that line.

Make no mistake: I think we’re in dangerous, possibly life-threatening times. I think the executive actions of this administration are a smokescreen for far more sinister and long-term plans. Democracy is not immortal. In fact, it’s shockingly fragile. It is not inconceivable that it could die quietly, with apologists saying it’s “for our own safety,” and that we should all calm down. We are one or two serious terrorist attacks away from utter chaos. There’s no end to the unlimited power we’ll grant someone when we’re scared.

Fears are being used to divide us, and a divided people are always weaker and more susceptible to authoritarians. There is a plurality of people in this country who genuinely believe we’re in danger from “the other,” even though you’re more likely to die from a toddler who stumbles upon a gun than from a foreign national plotting a terrorist attack. It pains me deeply that numbers and statistics don’t cross into the bubble of fear. But then there I go putting people on the other side of a line, away from me, and thinking of them as foreign to my thinking, although we’re all in this together. I have fears too, of evil men usurping authority, of our country descending into chaos and white nationalism. There are those who might say that numbers and facts aren’t penetrating my bubble of fear.

Here’s my struggle. I want to do away with lines, but I don’t know how.

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