My Take

How does a divided nation attempt to heal? How can a torn social fabric be stitched together again in a way that might ensure the cloth survives intact for at least a while longer? Purging Trump and his narcissism from the political landscape will not do it.

The fibers of national cohesion began to fray long before Trump’s deadly arrival on the political scene. In my opinion, the metastasis of healthy patriotism into deadly and divisive nationalism can be traced back to Joseph McCarthy, maybe even earlier. The definition of patriotism began to change with McCarthy’s madness; with that change in definition came a subtle change in attitudes that, over the years, has ebbed and flowed with events and policies associated with successive U.S. administrations. I think the assassination of John F. Kennedy fueled the growth in nationalism, especially in light of the conspiracy theories surrounding Lee Harvey Oswald’s role in a plot involving both international and national players. Then, the Vietnam war’s growing unpopularity, coupled with the social upheavals of the sixties, stretched the fabric that had once unified the country. The reaction to the Nixon years led to Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency; in spite of Carter’s inherent decency, the Iran hostage crisis and Carter’s inability to end it stoked the fires of nationalism and led to Ronald Reagan’s presidency. From that point on, the divisions within the populace grew with each succeeding election. The fires were self-fueled from that point forward. Divisions, themselves, stoked the flames. Newt Gingrich’s brand of political hatred while he was Speaker of the House in the last half of the nineties should have sent signals of the coming explosions. Since then, an ugly blend of nationalism and patriotism has metastasized into a conservative/progressive divide that pits one half of the population against the other. Trump simply took advantage of the divide to feed his own ego and thirst for recognition and power. His disregard for civility and human decency is serving as a model that has very nearly torn the country apart; it may yet have that effect.

So, how do we heal? Time (if enough of it remains before the pressure cooker explodes), education, and charismatic leadership. Education will be harder now than ever before because so much of it has morphed into miseducation and propaganda. Separating fact from fiction and truth from stubbornly lodged belief will take enormous effort. And charismatic leadership might be the toughest of all. I thought Barack Obama had the charisma necessary to bring us together; instead, the fact that he was both liberal and Black seemed to have had the opposite effect. Joe Biden remains a wild card, as is Kamala Harris; we’ll just have to wait and see how they lead and whether their leadership can overcome bigotry, prejudice, and stubborn insistence at both ends of the political spectrum.

Maybe the toughest of all the elements of healing will be our collective willingness to forgive one another and our willingness to stop assigning blame. As hard as it may be for me to withhold judgement of Trump, I have to try; at least I have to try to be silent about it. And the same is true for people who loathed Barack Obama and blamed him for everything from World War II to the attacks on the World Trade Center.  See? It’s hard not to be cynical.

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So, social and political unrest has been occupying my mind thus far this morning, as I worry about the future of our country. I like to say it’s pointless to worry about things over which I have no control. But I do have just a tiny bit of control in this case. Each of us does. Just like our votes matter, so do our attitudes and our behaviors.

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This morning, I am sitting in a sacred space. I am sitting at my wife’s desk, the place where she spent so much time overseeing and managing our lives. Handling finances. Preparing grocery lists. Searching for recipes. Reading. This room was her study, the place to which she retreated for solitude and quiet. And this room is where she watched television.

While she was in the hospital, I bought her a new television. The old one was not bad, but the picture wasn’t as sharp as I thought she should have and the sound quality wasn’t what I thought it should be. I bought a sound bar to go with the television. Between hospital and rehab center stays, she only spent about a week a home, so she got the benefit of the new technologies only briefly.

I now use this desk to do what she used to do. And I watch the television here instead of in the family room where I used to watch. And this morning I think I might find it impossible to ever leave this place. This place was her “nest,” the place where she worked and relaxed and enjoyed herself. I don’t know whether I should forever treasure this space or whether I should try to avoid it and the memories that spring from it. I suppose I’ll discover the answer to that myself, over time.

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Later this morning, I will participate in an Arkansas Hospice grief group, via Zoom. I got a call a week or so ago, inviting me to join in the conversation, which takes place two or three times a month. I do not know quite what to expect. But if my behavior during the past month is any indication of how I will react to conversations about my wife, I will have a hard time maintaining my composure. I’ve been told by a number of people that I should not worry about maintaining my composure. I know that. But, still. At any rate, I’ll see what comes of it.

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I ordered dishwashing tablets and a few other items online on Saturday. When I went to pick them up at Sam’s Club, I was asked to show my ID. I wonder whether that is a preventative measure or whether someone has ordered groceries online using a stolen credit card? If the latter, I find it sad that someone would find it necessary to steal someone else’s credit card in order to buy groceries. So many people, though, are just days away from being unable to pay rent or buy groceries or pay their utility bills. I imagine the organizations and agencies that serve people in need are stretched beyond their limits nowadays. When I think about such matters, the idea of anonymously paying for a stranger’s lunch is no longer so appealing; I’d rather pay for someone’s lunch if I know they really need it. “Paying it forward” by buying someone’s lunch does more for the purchaser than for the recipient. I guess I’ve made a 180 degree turn on that matter.

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It’s nearing 7:00, time for a little breakfast. One of my favorite blog followers told me I need not worry about showering every day. That’s good to know. But I think I’ll shower today, anyway.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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1 Response to My Take

  1. Pat Newcomb says:

    Three very nice “posts within a post” – and a word of affirmation for joining the grief support group – even though it will be difficult for sure. I like the approach you are taking towards matters that divide us – keep up the query.

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