The Great Divide:  An America Torn Asunder by Divisions

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I published the following blog a few months ago.  I think it needs to be more visible.  If you agree with the ideas in this blog, would you please share it with other people or groups that it might help.  Democracy is in crisis today in America as never before.  It has not ended with Trump being defeated since his followers and minions are still out doing their best to overturn Democracy in America.  Only an informed and literate citizenship can defeat these efforts.  

The number one subject for bestselling non-fiction books in the USA today concerns the chasm that separates Republicans from Democrats.  Rural voters from urban voters.  College Educated people from non-college educated.  Conservatives from liberals.  Fox viewers from CNN viewers.  Your facts from my facts.  Your truths from my truths.  Your lies from my lies.  Your views of reality from my views of reality. 

This divide is decried by all the pundits and experts.  Not one of the writers on this subject has anything good to say about the divide.  Perhaps they harken back to the old saying, “United we stand and divided we fall.”  Or the adage that, “A house divided cannot stand.”  Whatever the reasoning, no one thinks that a USA as divided as it is with nearly 75 million people voting for Donald Trump and 80 million people voting for Joseph Biden is helpful for our nation.  Keep in mind, it is not just the sheer numbers that alarm people, it is the magnitude of the crevasse that scares people.

hate-spesechThe abyss It is so big that there is no bridging it.  None of the sides can see the other side.  None of the sides has any common ground with the other side.  None of the sides understands the language that the other side speaks.  We might as well be earthlings talking to Martians.  There is no lingua franca.  Many of the “well-meaning” experts exhort both sides to try harder to bridge the gap or to work more diligently to listen to the other side.  It seems to be assumed that all it will take to jump the gulf is good intentions.  I cry bullshit on this.  As the old aphorism goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  It will take more than good intentions to heal the wound that infests our country.

Before we can fix what ails America, we must clearly understand what brought this divide about.  What are the causes for this divide, and can they be healed?  I see three main causes for this chasm.  They are: 1. Greed, 2. Demonization, and 3. Media.  Let’s look at each of these three elements and see how they contribute to the divide and what if anything can be done about them. 

Greed:

Corporate greed and materialism have driven a wedge between the haves and the have nots in America.  A larger gap than ever before exists between the rich and the poor.  The number of people seeking free food and standing in line at food banks has only been higher during the Great Depression.  The requirements for a digital elite versus a computer illiterate fuels the growing income gap.  The Opioid Epidemic is only one symptom of this inequality in the USA.  Many people cannot afford medical care or adequate housing as well as food. 

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For years now, materialism has been touted as the backbone of American commerce by corporations and the media.  Inflammatory news events sell advertisements which drive people to the shopping malls, ball parks, restaurants, and performances.  Special events like “Black Friday” abound where people, “shop till they drop.”  There is a vicious spiral to these events since the final outcome is to keep people needy and wanting more.  The theologian Matthew Kelly says you can never satisfy wants only needs.  Pursuing wants will always leave you wanting more.  Eating, sleeping, exercise and love are needs that can be satisfied and will bring you happiness.  You can never be happy pursuing wants.

materialism and spendingThe wants advertised on the TV and in the media are never fulfilling.  We have a nation of brainwashed consumers who mistakenly think that more toys, bigger houses, more guns, and luxury cars will make them happy.  We are a nation on a never-ending treadmill of consumer materialism where like rats we keep spinning the wheel and hoping to find happiness, but happiness never comes, and drugs take its place. 

There is no sanity in our economic system.  It is a zero-sum game.  It is a great deal like the lottery.  Next week there will be 100 million losers, but one winner will get a billion dollars or more.  The value for the lottery keeps going up which entices more and more people to buy lottery tickets, but the number of losers also keeps going up.  Where do the profits for the lotteries go?  Not back to the people, regardless of what they tell you.  Our society is being sold hope where hope is the most elusive product in the marketplace. 

imagesAs the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the tensions in society grow ever more divisive.  We see more road rage, more senseless shootings, more violence between men and women, less loyalty between employers and employees.  The underpinning of society that should be based on human integrity and morality is replaced with an opportunism based on an amoral value system.  Whatever we can get as long as we break no laws is considered to be moral.  We see most politicians that have no commitment to anything except to collect more money so that they can stay in office.   Their highest goal is to help the rich get richer, which of course includes themselves. 

Jesus said that money is not evil, it is the pursuit of money that is evil.  The evil in America comes from a frenzy for more that separates Americans from each other.  Like a horse race where there can only be one winner, there are only going to be a few rich Americans and many more poor people scrambling to be the “King of the Hill.” 

I do not believe that the divide in this country can be erased until we eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor.  It is not simply a matter of conversation or discussion.  It is a matter of inequality.  A poor person cannot talk to a rich person unless they can shout over gated walls and armed security guards.  The biggest divide in America is between the haves and the have nots.  It is between the will haves and the may never haves.  The haves in America expect to have more and probably will get more.  The have nots do not know where their next paycheck will come from or whether they will be able to buy food for tomorrow.  No amount of discussion or listening skills is going to solve this problem.  

Demonization:

Speech-Bubble-Montage_2-1 (1)I am not talking about the devil here or about spirituality.  I am talking about a kind of insidious propaganda that has been spread by many groups and individuals.  In this propaganda, one side of America is labeled as moral, ethical, righteous, and just.  The other side is the opposite.  The other side is everything negative.  The other side is a composite of all the demons and evils that Americans believe in.  The other side are communists, fascists, atheists, anti-democratic, anti-patriotic and un-American.  One side is good.  The other side is evil incarnate.  You cannot talk to evil.  You cannot discuss with the devil why he wants your soul.  You cannot debate with Satan over the values that he has.  Heaven and hell do not have weekly discussion groups.  The language heard today, and what the media publishes drips with hate, innuendo, and disdain.  The language fosters violence.  I doubt the Founding Fathers ever conceived that the First Amendment would protect such speech.  There are three elements that contribute to a hate speech culture that demonizes the other side: 

  1. Malicious Labeling:

freehatespeechMalicious labeling is the name calling that goes on between both sides today wherein each side is labeled.  You can hear it on almost every talk show program in America today.  Name calling and name labeling.  Commie pinko leftists!  Intellectual elites!  Radical socialists!  Racist rednecks!  Fascist dictators!  Politicians, commentators, newscasters, and radio talk show hosts all use malicious labels to insult and demean those they disagree with.  What have we let this country become when we allow such name calling?  This kind of hyperbole demonizes the other side and creates a divide that cannot be overcome by rational conversation.

“I think the political process has degenerated into name-calling and extremism, and I think that that’s unfortunate.” — Bill Bradley

  1. Anti-Government Diatribes:

extremismword_hp111319.1200x0I do not think that the Founding Fathers of our nation believed that Government was evil.  Certainly, they felt that there could be too much government intrusion on the rights of the populace.  They invoked certain safeguards to protect both human rights and states rights.  Nevertheless, they did not demonize government and not a single one of the Fathers ever referred to government as evil.  Edmund Burke, the famous English conservative said, “The government that governs best is the government that governs least.”  He never said, “government was evil.”  It has become common place to hear refrains denigrating the role and necessity of government.  This steady drumbeat of antigovernmental rhetoric has created a group of people that have no value for government and who support the idea that government should be abolished.

“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”  — George Washington

  1. Legal Advocates of Violence

loyal white knights and aryan nations in texas july 2016 from vkdotcom_0A few years ago I began to wonder why groups like the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, Antifa, The Proud Boys and many other such groups advocating violence against the government were not labeled as Terrorist Organizations.  I asked a lawyer this question and he replied, “it is all politics.”  I found that almost all the groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups” were designated as “extremist groups.”  This means that they are not illegal, and they have the right to organize, march, rally and basically spread their hate across America.  In 2019, The SPLC listed 940 hate groups across the USA.  If any of these groups was labeled as a “Terrorist Group,” they would be on the same list as the Taliban, Boko Haram, The Mafia, Mexican Cartels and Al Qaeda.  What is the difference between an extremist group and a terrorist group?  It might surprise you to learn that a terrorist organization is defined as follows:

In the United States of America, terrorism is defined in Title 22 Chapter 38 U.S. Code § 2656f as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents”.

In general, terrorism is classified as:

  • The use of violence or of the threat of violence in the pursuit of political, religious, ideological, or social objectives
  • Acts committed by non-state actors (or by undercover personnel serving on the behalf of their respective governments)
  • Acts reaching more than the immediate target victims and also directed at targets consisting of a larger spectrum of society.

15963If this definition does not apply to the groups that tried to storm the US Capital on January 6th, 2021, I do not know what does.  Just yesterday the Canadian government labeled the Proud Boys as a Terrorist Organization.  This delegitimizes the group and takes their rights away.  For Canada, it is a start.  I am wondering when we are going to get started in the USA on such an effort.  The First Amendment was never construed to allow hate speech and the advocating of violent actions to overthrow the government.  Why do we not have the political will to outlaw these groups?  We seem to have little compunction in penalizing Black groups like the Black Lives Matter Movement or the Black Panthers.  We have a different standard when it comes to White Supremacy groups. 

The Media:

000f25f2-6bf0-11e9-994e-1d1e521ccbf6_image_hires_015902The newspapers, TV and the Internet are today the major carriers for the hate and vituperation that has spread across America.  On one side of the divide, we find the NY Times, the Washington Post and CNN News.  On the other side, we find the NY Post, the Washington Examiner and Fox News.  There are countless other purveyors of extreme and fanatical views.  Each side reeks of headlines supporting nonobjective views and biased reporting.  If objective reporting ever existed in the USA, it has been murdered and buried by the most pervasive media to ever exist.  The media carries the hate and violence that is created by politicians, pundits, radio commentators and hate groups and ensures that it gets widely disseminated.  Without the media, much of the divide would never have occurred.  Hate needs a platform to be spread and the media is more than happy to host anything that it believes will sell itself and its advertising. 

Conclusions:

We are not going to overcome the divide that separates Americans today by platitudes and wishful thinking.  No amount of holding hands or singing kumbaya together is going to unite Americans.  We have a systemic rot in our system that is caused by the extremism in politics and media that has created this divide.  We need to enact reasonable laws to stamp out this rot while also protecting free speech but not hate speech.  There is a difference between hate speech and free speech.  If we cannot figure this difference out, we will never close the divide that exists in America today.  You can defend the First Amendment all you want, but there are limits to everything and that includes so-called Free Speech. 

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Then-CIA director Gina Haspel said the US was ‘on the way to a right-wing coup’ after Trump lost the election: book

 

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wayne Woodman
    Jan 26, 2021 @ 13:54:55

    Great article, very well written. As your neighbour to the North I have grave concerns for your country and the fallout that will inevitably come our way.

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Jan 26, 2021 @ 19:24:14

      Thanks Wayne. I appreciate your comments. I hope we can make the changes needed but I am not optimistic. I wonder if I am too naïve about the First Amendment? Can we ever tell the difference between Free Speech and Hate Speech and codify it?

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  2. allyswan
    Jan 26, 2021 @ 20:34:07

    This is a good read. We have a real mess on our hands. –Valarie

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Jan 27, 2021 @ 08:50:25

      Yes, and I wish I were sure that it was something that we have the will to fix. Thanks for commenting. John

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      Reply

  3. Stephen Martin
    Feb 07, 2021 @ 10:45:42

    It seems that education is an overlooked element that’s lacking in our society. And the volume of information we absorb nowadays tricks many into thinking they’ve acquired knowledge. Ignorance is a great plague that leads people to hate others for illogical reasons. Greed, selfishness and anger (i.e. fear) emerge more easily when depth of thought is suppressed, and disdain for others takes over. It’s a sad place to be, and often a difficult place to get out of, especially if you don’t recognize it. Negative feedback loop…
    I did have a double take seeing Antifa in the same list as KKK, Proud Boys, etc. I’m not an advocate of violence, but to me there is a clear distinction between outspoken hate groups and one that is anti-fascist. Much as I see a distinction between lynching and burning a police car.

    Nice read, thank you and great comics on Tolerance too!

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Feb 09, 2021 @ 19:04:37

      Thanks for your comments Stephen. A good read is Eric Hoffer’s “True Believer.” It characterizes to some extent the similarities between left wing extremists and right wing extremists. More similarities than you might think. I think any group that advocates violence is bordering on extremism. I am not against self-defense nor do I believe in pacifism but groups that have resorted to violence on the left are as bad as groups on the right. The Southern Poverty Law Center says on its site “The SPLC condemns violence in all its forms, including the violence perpetrated by some antifascist demonstrators (Antifa). But most members of Antifa, a broad, community-based movement composed of individuals organizing against racial and economic injustice, do not engage in violence.” However, I could not escape the fact that some members of Antifa have resorted to violence and I have never seen any condemnation of this violence on their part. That is why I listed them. By the way, in Minneapolis and Seattle, quite a few police cars where burned. I would call that needless extremism. It certainly did not do the Black Live’s Matter Movement any good and it probably contributed some to Trump’s 74 million votes in the election. I can tell you that up north where I live in Wisconsin, I heard many comments about the “left-wing terrorists.” Of course, most of these comments were by Trump supporters. Many of whom have looked the other way for years when it comes to violence against Blacks in America.

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      • Stephen
        Feb 11, 2021 @ 07:19:35

        Thanks for responding, I enjoy the discussion. I recognize that the left are not immune to extremism and violence, and am also in agreement that police car burnings aren’t swaying the support of the masses.
        But I think a clear distinction has to be made between hate groups, that are inherently violent (like those pictured with “only white lives matter” signs), and groups that are against a system, in this case one that leans more authoritarian. The distinction being one hates specific groups of people, the other hates a system of governing that maintains and is even rooted in inequality.
        Where is the line where violence goes from ‘needless extremism’ to ‘self-defence’? It’s not always that clear. What seems to be clear is the irony of those in positions of power using ‘self-defence’ themselves to excuse their use of violence (“I thought he had a gun, so I shot him” what could sound more ridiculous).
        Again, I support non-violence, and have at times viewed Antifa as a group whose use of violence was unnecessary and even harmful to their cause. But considering the numerous hate groups that exist it seems absurd to me how demonized Antifa have become, and I’m left wondering how scary things would be without them.

        I recommend the writings of Riane Eisler “Nurturing Our Humanity”. She speaks of the shift from domination to partnerships, and is critical of both left & right systems that are rooted in domination (and are based on 200 yr. old ideas). It’s a great framework to view all systems and how to improve them.

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        • Dr. John Persico Jr.
          Feb 11, 2021 @ 07:33:48

          Thanks Steven. I agree btw with your comments on Antifa but I felt I had to balance things somewhat. I will look up the book by Eisler. It sounds very interesting. I am just now finishing a book by Ezra Klein called “Why Were Polarized.” I found it interesting. No real solutions to the problem though by Klein.

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