Do Americans hate each other enough to tear the country apart?


Staff member

Bill Maher had an essay in the Wall Street Journal recently that was adapted from his new book, “What This Comedian Said Will Shock You.” It’s about how — as the headline of the piece reads — “Red and Blue America Can’t Just Go Their Separate Ways.”

If there’s one main point Maher is making, it’s that politics has taken over too much of our lives and caused way too much division — and we better turn things around before it’s too late.

A few of his observations jumped out at me, but this one goes a long way in conveying Maher’s concern about where we’re heading in this country. “Would anyone ride the New York City subway wearing a MAGA hat, or go to a NASCAR race in a Biden T-shirt? That’s where we are now,” he writes. “Other parts of the country are seen as no-go zones.”

This can only happen when we don’t simply disagree with the other guy, but when we don’t like the other guy, when we don’t want to have anything to do with him. We used to live in caves and stayed close to people we knew. It made us feel safe. We kept our distance from strangers. A million-or-so years later, we’ve moved from caves to bubbles — safe, comfortable liberal bubbles and safe, comfortable conservative bubbles.

We read and watch the news that validates our biases and keeps us separated from the other side. And too many in the news business — for ideological reasons and for profit — are happy to pour fuel on the fire.

We’re far more comfortable socializing with people who have the same political views, who vote for the same candidates. I have a conservative friend whose progressive sister won’t visit him because he lives in a red state and she lives in a blue state. No fooling!

Another friend, a long-ago prominent sports journalist and a smart, decent man, said in a casual conversation that it might be a good idea if we divided the county into two separate nations: Blue State America and Red State America. He may have simply been thinking out loud, but some people apparently are dead serious — like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) who has said that, “We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states.”

There’s another name for what Greene politely calls “a national divorce.” It’s “civil war” — with or without the bullets. Is that actually possible, again, in this country — or is this simply the stuff of far-right loons?

Here’s Maher, a sensible man of the left, on the subject of civil war. “Donald Trump’s middle name might as well be ‘existential threat’— and I have not been shy about calling him that myself. But the other side sees Democratic control of government in exactly the same way, and it’s unfortunately no longer the case that they’re completely wrong about that. When both sides believe the other guy taking over means the end of the world — yes, you can have a civil war.”

Now we have Trump convicted of a bunch of felonies that have the nasty stench of politics attached to them. Just what we need: more division, more Americans taking sides. And as we enter summer and another divisive presidential campaign begins for real, you might get the impression that we’re already engaged in a civil war.

I don’t know if Joe Biden and Donald Trump really hate each other or if they’re just acting as if they do to win an election. But whichever it is, the fear and loathing they convey inevitably filters down to their supporters — and let’s remember, that’s us, the American people — who in turn despise the other side. How is this good for a democratic country?

I have long believed that the biggest danger facing America doesn’t come from a foreign military power, like China or Russia, as real as that may be. And it doesn’t come from the supposedly “existential threat” of climate change. The biggest danger is brewing right here within our borders. Polarization has turned Americans against each other. The problem isn’t only that it’s not going away; it seems to be getting worse.

“In 1960,” Maher writes, “only 5% of Americans had a negative reaction to the idea of marrying someone from a different political party; now it’s 38%. For liberals bringing home a Republican is the new ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’”

We’ve reached a point, I think, where we’re no longer trying to win anyone over to our side. Why waste the time, we figure. But as fractured as our culture has become, I still don’t believe we’re heading for a real civil war, which would amount to the decline and fall of the United States of America. I think we’re better than that.

But then Bill Maher comes along and yanks us out of our complacency with this historical slap-in-the-face reminder: “Rome didn’t fall and didn’t fall and didn’t fall — and then it did.” And he says, “If we want to stop this descent into civil war, we have to stop hating each other.”

Okay, but do we even know how anymore?