In recent days, more and more people have been predicting civil war in America. Others have recoiled from such predictions and called for “unity” and less “divisiveness.” Personally, I don’t think there’s a civil war on the horizon. We’re far too lazy for that. But I don’t think there will be unity, either. I don’t think there can be. And I think the people who sermonize about “unity” are being incredibly disingenuous.
It may feel nice to speak of unity. It may make you look wonderfully civil and wonderfully tolerant. And you may earn a round of applause if you stand up on a platform and bravely denounce divisiveness and hatred. But this is just happy talk. It means nothing. In order for us to meaningfully unite, we must have something meaningful to unite around. We must have shared beliefs, shared ideas, shared priorities, all of which can serve as a focal point for this unity. Sadly, we have none of those. So, we do not have unity. And we will not have it in the foreseeable future.
The fact is this: a large percentage of people in this the country, and an even larger percentage of my own generation, do not believe in objective truth; they do not believe in objective morality; they do not believe, really, in God — or at least a God that I recognize. They do not believe in scientific realities like the definition of “man” and “woman.” They do not believe in the family as the foundation for human civilization. They may even hate the family and consider it a tool of patriarchal oppression. They would look at me, and the way I live my life, and find it all quite weird and foreign. I look at them, and the way they live their lives, and think the same. We have not a single substantial thing in common. That is simply the reality of the situation.
Now, I can be civil toward a member of this group. I can even be nice to him. I could sit down with him and have a beer and talk about sports or movies or something unimportant. Unite with him, though? How? Around what? We live in two different universes. There is a chasm between us that cannot be bridged by pleasantries and small talk.
I do have some friends who fall into this category, or close to it. But we have been friends for a long time and we have shared experiences and a common affection that binds us together. We know each other. We have a history. But there are 325 million people in America. We can’t all be friends. We don’t know each other and never will. We don’t have a common personal history or even a common cultural history. We cannot unite in the intimate, personal sense in which two old friends may unite. We need something broader, something larger, something that millions of strangers can share together. What is it, then? What’s our thing?
If a people will not be united by their beliefs or ideas then they must at least have a common heritage, a common tradition, a common language. We have none of those things. In fact, even worse, those things are themselves causes for further division and contention. A Thanksgiving cannot go by without arguments over the alleged atrocities of the pilgrims. A statue of a national hero cannot be erected without a mob clamoring to tear it down.
So I ask all you “unifiers” yet again: where can I find this unity? On what basis can I find it? Even the most superficial sources of unity — sports, movies, literature — have now become sounding boards for political quarrels. What is left? Can we unify around our shared affection for the idea of unifying? I suppose we will try.
I’m not optimistic about the results.