Bin Laden and Hitler were their names – two guys who had a whole lot in common. Both stood in front of mirrors to practice their hate speeches, and each had the same message: “If you do not join us, you deserve to die!”
Their goal was total dominance. Take no prisoners and shoot the wounded. They taught their followers with qualifying adjectives of race and religion and ethnicity and gender. The idea of a melting pot was dismissed and replaced with versions of predestination – not by will, choice, reason or intelligence – but with their own putrid versions of manifest destiny.
With them around, the world began to experience the Us Against Them and Them Against Us version of reality. It was not enough to be a believer; you must despise, diminish and empty the guts of those who are not like you. Every smashed bone and dead body waved in triumph like a relic.
Although both are now dead, sadly their legacy lives on. And here in America, we are seeing the beginnings of an ideology akin to the thought process of these two guys, on both the liberal and conservative side of the political aisle: Conflict!
We see it each and every day in the headlines of newspapers around the country. Blacks against whites; straights against gays; gays against priests, priests against abortionists; citizens against immigrants; Latinos against Anglos; people employed against those who aren’t; Republicans against Democrats; Democrats against Republicans. White hats and black hats. And vice versa. Us against Them. Them against Us. Get outta my friggin’ face! We see it each and every day in the headlines around the country.
Infusing this kind of thinking as a legacy for our children doesn’t work. Instead of feeling better about themselves, children out of the present process seem seething with bitterness. And even worse, the need to blame others for their distress. Fragmentation is the point. Segregation is the point. Anger is what it is all about.
We are seeing this amplified by talk radio and television. We have somehow become conditioned to prefer conflict to boredom, we prefer violence to talk. We prefer war to peace. We prefer lies to truth and are becoming a culture of cynicism and bitterness, when all along, the genius of America has been its ability to compromise. What we need is synthesis.
Over the years, we developed a political structure that helped us avoid direct confrontation. Sometimes you won, sometimes you lost; politics was a long season, like baseball, in which even the greatest hitters failed six times out of 10. Most of the time the system worked. Slowly. Tediously. But it did work.
Nowadays, we seem to need an enemy. Perhaps the cartoonist Walt Kelly was right when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The men and women who truly changed this country, who moved it along, who made it better, did so with a clarity of vision and a certain amount of grace. They were always willing to settle for half a loaf, and did in their own way think about what was best for the country.
They were, after all, Americans before they were Californians or Ohioans or Democrats or Republicans. They respected the contract. They respected the presidency. They respected themselves. These are the type of folks we need to forever defeat terrorism. To put away guys like Bin Laden and Hiter and whomever else is beyond the horizon, ready to follow in their footsteps.
Perhaps we need to relearn how to pipe down and back off, to stop shouting at each other and learn again how to listen. The question is: do we have leaders coming down the pike who will learn how to do that?