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Monday, May 29, 2017


A cold civil war

by Tom Sullivan

La Sal Mountain Range - Moab UT. Photo by RichieB via Creative Commons.

It is a weekend for barbecues, memorials, and war movies celebrating American resolve and sacrifice in pursuit of noble causes. Remember those? Memorial Day seems almost as "quaint" and as "obsolete" as Alberto Gonzales described the Geneva Conventions in one of the infamous torture memos that led to Abu Ghraib, the "Salt Pit," and Guantanamo Bay. So you won't find films from the Afghanistan or Iraq conflicts among the epics on Turner Classic Movies this weekend. We lost part of our soul in the post-September 11 madness that never seems to have abated.

There is plenty of madness still, not just in Manchester, but in Portland. But even in the madness, a few heroes to memorialize today for their sacrifice. Ricky John Best, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23 lost their lives defending others' humanity.

It becomes harder and harder to recognize each other as humans and fellow citizens in the glowering darkness of permanent fear-by-design. It is as exhausting as it is a burden that drags at the soul and closes minds. Hope has turned to ash not only among those who yearn for some halcyon American greatness, but among others who seek a more expansive freedom and a perfection of the American dream of equality.

Matt Taibbi reminds us that giving in to bitterness and retreating into our tribes is not the path to redemption:

Even as he himself was the subject of vicious and racist rhetoric, Obama stumped in the reddest of red districts. In his post-mortem on the Trump-Clinton race, he made a point of mentioning this – that in Iowa he had gone to every small town and fish fry and VFW hall, and "there were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points."

Most people took his comments to be a dig at Clinton's strategic shortcomings – she didn't campaign much in many of the key states she lost – but it was actually more profound than that. Obama was trying to point out that people respond when you demonstrate that you don't believe they're unredeemable.

You can't just dismiss people as lost, even bad or misguided people. Unless every great thinker from Christ to Tolstoy to Gandhi to Dr. King is wrong, it's especially those people you have to keep believing in, and trying to reach.

The Democrats have forgotten this ... Democrats in general have lost the ability (and the inclination) to reach out to the entire population.
Taibbi is right. Wresting friends' focus (and my own) from the Trump sideshow to focus, not on where this country is, but on where we should be leading it is more challenging than ever. Sarcasm is a guilty pleasure. Bitterness is unproductive. Irony is dead. Peacemaking, a lost art.

That is why Memorial Day ceremonies I've attended have a certain nostalgic feel. They are Mass-like in their solemnity and pro-forma in their celebration of an America participants remember fondly but no longer inhabit. There are remembrances of veterans and acknowledgments for first responders. They bring together political adversaries, elected and not, in a kind of Christmas truce before they return to their trenches and exchanges of rhetorical artillery. A cold civil war is upon us.

I'm grateful for the example and sacrifice of the men on the Portland train, and wish a complete recovery for Micah Fletcher, 21, who for his heroism must depend on a Go Fund Me to pay for his medical bills. This is where America is. If we are to lead it to a better place, we cannot give up on our fellow citizens as beyond hope.