Choose a side. You can’t be both.
This is the message that’s drummed into our heads daily on social media and in the news, by political parties, lobbyists, unions, corporations — you name it.
You’re either a Neanderthal conservative or liberal commie. You either want a return to the era of 16-hour-a-day sweatshops or you’re an apologist for the parasitic welfare state. When it comes to firearms, you’re either a gun nut or an enemy of freedom and the Constitution. Here in Cambria, you’re either an environmental nutcase who would trade one tree for 100 jobs or you’re the pro-development reincarnation of Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life” (if fictional characters could be reincarnated, which I’m pretty sure they can’t, but you get my point).
If social media has become a breeding ground for drama, our nation as a whole has become an incubator for division. And that division came of age this past week in a series of incidents that seem to have put us on the brink of a full-scale internal war.
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Race is the excuse, and it always is just that — because race is as valid a reason to hate someone as whether you prefer Cheerios or Corn Flakes. But trust me, we’re getting there.
I chose the words “trust me” on purpose, because that’s a big part of the problem: People don’t trust each other anymore, and trust is a lot harder to build — or rebuild — than it is to tear down. Unfortunately, we’ve become experts at the latter.
Someone who doesn’t echo our views 100 percent is merely “trolling” us or trying to push us down a “slippery slope” into some pit of woe and calamity.
This isn’t about an unwillingness to compromise anymore. It’s gone beyond that. It’s about searching for and finding reasons to distrust, and even hate, one another because we’re sure everyone who’s the slightest bit different somehow has it out for us. This isn’t just about skin color and ethnicity; it’s crossed into the realm of minutiae involving political litmus tests and nuanced social discourse. It’s as if we want an excuse, any excuse, to dismiss the other side as inferior.
There are times when I feel like we’ve stepped into the pages of the science fiction classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” such is our paranoia that everyone we meet might be playing us. Maybe they’re really pod people.
It’s not that we’re so badly divided because this somehow “happened to us.” We did this to ourselves. We’re divided because we want to be — because we think our fear is the only thing protecting us from anyone who appears the least bit different than we are.
Walls are our altars, and weapons — whether we’re talking about guns, knives or the pejoratives we use to marginalize our enemies — are our guardian angels.
There is no “one hand” or “the other” here. All these people are, tragically, dead. So are other officers who have died in the line of duty and other suspects who have died in police custody.
But we are being asked to choose nonetheless. We are being told that somehow the number of traffic citations Castile was issued has some relevance to what occurred after he was pulled over in what became a fatal encounter with Minneapolis-area police. In what universe? Or we are being told that police misconduct somehow “explains” the shootings in Dallas — a city where the number of officer-involved shootings has actually fallen each year since 2012?
A sane society condemns prejudice, regardless of where it’s directed. That goes for citizens and police officers alike. A sane society nurtures trust rather than fomenting division. A sane society mourns death rather than seeking first to justify it.
It’s heartening to see so many people condemn both the police shootings and the brutal deaths of citizens in police custody, but it shouldn’t have needed to come to this for us to see where we’ve been headed.
It’s time for us to stop the insanity. And we can only do so if we end our addiction to divisiveness and lay the groundwork for trusting one another again.