A dispatch from the Divided States of America

Summer is not my favorite writing season. Invariably, I get blocked.

I’m pretty sure it’s the weather. The heat and humidity wrap around my brain like a wet, fuzzy blanket. A blanket printed with phrases like: “Off limits.” “Keep out.” “No inspiration allowed.”

This summer is shaping up to be even less inspiring than usual, for reasons that may not be entirely weather-related.

As the Fourth of July approaches, there’s a sense of impending doom hanging over our country. It’s making me sluggish and detached. I think almost everybody feels it, but we don’t have the comfort of commiserating. Because Americans don’t agree about the nature of the doom – how it will materialize or who’s to blame.

A meme has been going around Facebook lately, featuring a quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie.”

I keep seeing it – over and over – posted by Americans who clearly live in very different ideological (and informational) realities, all of whom are 100% certain they’re the ones being “courageous” while the other guys are “taking part in the lie.”

It’s a deeply disturbing situation for which I see no clear solution. Not a peaceful one, anyway.

It’s important to remember that this phenomenon isn’t new. Almost everybody I know blames Donald Trump – or the enemies of Donald Trump – for the division and chaos we see today, but Americans have been growing apart since long before Trump came down that escalator.

Just last week, a “memory” from 11 years ago appeared on my Facebook feed, a post in which I’d written, “In my wanderings through FB and the Internet in general, what fascinates me most is how one group’s principled hero is another group’s evil villain. No nuance. No gray area. Just black and white. It’s truly intriguing.”

I reposted the memory, adding: “From back when I found it merely ‘intriguing,’ instead of deeply irritating and socially destructive.”

The comments that followed my post were illustrative.

One conservative FB friend immediately chimed in, saying, “Well, it all depends on your goals. We are at, as they say, an inflection point. What congress can people who want freedom and local control (Federalists) have with Globalists who want to bring down our system so that it can be subjugated to a world government? That was, quite literally, what brought our founders to arms. What compromise can I have with someone willing to mutilate the body of a child? How can there be a grey area there? What, cut off just one breast?”

From there, the comments only grew more provocative. The thread quickly turned into a conservative confab, so I quietly sidled away, finding it no more interesting than the liberal confabs I often stumble into, where the like-minded are laying down well-worn tracks – talking points I’ve heard a thousand times – and a palpable team spirit hangs in the air. It’s not so much a conversation as a rally, and I’ve never liked rallies.

In short, my FB community is a microcosm of the country, with the most committed partisans vigorously preaching to their own choirs and everybody else tuning out from sheer exhaustion and futility. The conservatives swear the liberals are trying to “bring down our system,” and the liberals are convinced the conservatives are trying to “destroy our Democracy.” The conservatives say the liberals want to “mutilate the bodies of children,” while the liberals say the conservatives want to “strip LGBTQ people of their rights.” The “book banners” talk smack about the “groomers” – and vice versa – and anyone who treasures precise, honest language and productive discussion is SOL, as the kids say.

Our political system is supposed to help people with different values live together peacefully, through compromise. What happens when a good number of Americans are no longer willing to do that?

I posed this question in the aforementioned thread, and was told: “That was the genius of the federalist system and local control. Each state was supposed to be sovereign so that each group could have it their own way. The problem occurred when the Federal government usurped all power from the states, and started dictating a one-size-fits-few system.”

Okay, fair enough. But I’ve been thinking about federalism and local control ever since. While I don’t question the genius of our system when it was originally conceived, I do wonder if it might not have run its course.

And before any of you have a conniption, just hear me out.

Our founding fathers couldn’t possibly have imagined our country as it is today: a collection of states so closely bound together – by ease of transportation, the spreading out of families, and a national media that we all hold in our back pockets and consult regularly.

I’m just not sure how realistic it is, anymore, to expect peaceful coexistence among contiguous states – with no borders, regular travel back and forth, a common language – that maintain drastically different laws based on drastically different moral values. Especially when those values aren’t just “different” – but mutually reviled.

The discussion thread above clarified, for me – again – that for many people, there can be no compromise. So what now? And what about the rest of us?

Should the United States split into two countries? And if so, how would that work? I live in a red state, in a part of the country known as the Deep South. This region is my lifelong home and my heart. But many of my friends here are “blue.” I have dear family members who are red, blue, and various shades of purple. I am deep purple, myself. Will there be a third section of the country set aside for us purple people?

Will I have to move to Ohio? Dear Lord.

The Facebook thread was still active several days after it started, though I had long since slunk away. When I checked back in, I saw that one particularly committed conservative had asked, “On which topic should we compromise? Seriously, I can’t think of one that is of any importance.”

Off the top of my head, I could think of several, but I didn’t have the energy to jump back into the rally, especially knowing it would make no difference.

But let’s take abortion, for example. Here in SC, Gov. McMaster recently signed a bill into law making most abortions illegal after six weeks. The law is under review by the state Supreme Court, so our former law is still in effect, meaning abortion is still legal up to 22 weeks. For many Americans, both positions are extreme.

In fact, polls say a majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in the first trimester – up to somewhere between 12 and 14 weeks. Most Americans would favor such a compromise.

Unfortunately, most Americans have left the conversation.

Perhaps, like me, they’re tired of wasting their breath.