Andersen: And revolution in the air …”
Hillary? Trump? Some say there’s no moral choice, that both candidates are flawed. Voting has become an act of political expediency. A vote for one is a vote against the other. Ballots mark the lesser of two evils.
Many think this election — no matter how it goes — will foment potentially violent revolution. Sides have been drawn on fault lines over the Second Amendment, racial profiling, economic disparity and environmental injustice.
Some think it’s the end of democracy in America, that national divisions are so wide and fractious that dysfunction over a bitterly fought electoral war will tear apart the national fabric, which is already frayed.
Poet laureate Bob Dylan sang of these times: “There was music in the cafes at night / And revolution in the air.” In “Tangled Up and Blue,” Dylan describes turmoil that has existed throughout historic epochs, where every election cycle is seen as the end of the world.
The lament today is that we have lost our national unity. Historically, national unity has risen only during ephemeral contagions of fear and vulnerability, usually during wartime. Unity has never been a strong point of our contentious national identity.
In his book “Tribe,” Sebastian Junger suggests that true social unity exists only in tribal societies where unity translates to survival. American Indians and military units cultivate tribal unity to survive. Unity is strongest when an outside threat pulls people together, like the Blitzkrieg in London or 9/11 in America.
Soldiers who have experienced unity with fellow soldiers have a hard time readjusting to civilian life because they miss the tribal connections they had come to depend upon for security, Junger said.
“Soldiers experience this tribal way of thinking at war, but when they come home they realize that the tribe they were actually fighting for wasn’t their country, it was their unit. It makes absolutely no sense to make sacrifices for a group that isn’t willing to make sacrifices for you.”
In a post last week on the website CommonDreams.com, a veteran of multiple deployments in Afghanistan wrote about joining forces with the Standing Rock protestors.
“It wasn’t until I visited Standing Rock in October 2016 when I actually served the American people. This time, instead of fighting for corporate interests, I was fighting for the people.”
This veteran realized that he had been “on the wrong side of history” as a soldier. Only by aligning with native peoples in South Dakota did he shift to the right side.
“The people of Standing Rock are not just fighting to save themselves, they are fighting for tens of millions of other,” he wrote.
Finding unity in a conflict is a comfort for those disillusioned by a bitterly divided nation and world. Junger suggests this is why many veterans miss war after leaving military service, where brotherhood and sisterhood defined a higher collective purpose.
The wedge of disunity in the U.S. today is most visible in the contempt one side holds for the other.
“Unlike criticism,” Junger wrote, “contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority. … People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long.”
The bitter contempt fueling today’s political attacks has created an atmosphere of fear and loathing of “the other.” Hatred spills out in venomous diatribes that are destructive, not only to the targets of abuse, but to the democratic hallmark of civility.
In his poem “Fire and Ice,” Robert Frost describes an apocalypse fomented by passion or hatred or both.
“Some say the world will end in fire / Some say in ice / From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire / But if it had to perish twice / I think I know enough of hate / To say that for destruction ice / Is also great / And would suffice.”
Fire and ice undermine national unity in a climate of perpetual warfare and contempt for differing ideologies. The Hillary/Trump contest is rife with both, which is why many voters will cast ballots for a lesser of two evils.
Democracy is on the ropes from an ugly election cycle that may bring internecine civil war to the streets of a nation where national unity remains an ethereal dream.
Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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