Democracy on the brink of extinction, a global pandemic, the impending end of truth, science, progress, empathy, and humanity. Seems like just about enough to cast a dark shadow on even the sunniest prospect, but the more immediate cost for me is the loss of friendship and the prospect of friendship. Family members and people I once knew and liked despite our differences have moved to affiliation with a political movement that is not only inimical to my beliefs but operating outside the constraints of constitutional democracy and dedicated to disenfranchising me and injuring people that I love. Have we and democratic institutions been so battered in recent months that the prospect of civility has become unlikely?
These are dangerours times; without reconciliation, the social contract can be shredded. Lulled into the conviction that our institutions are secure, we’ve laughed at the pointless feud of Hatfields and McCoys and despaired at a distance at the mindless antipathy of Capulets for Montagues. Their enmity is in full flame as the play begins, violent and spontaneous. There is no safe haven; even those outside the families are at risk as violence rages in the city’s streets.
Clubs, bills, and partisans! strike! beat them down!
Down with the Capulets! down with the Montagues!
This partisan street brawl has now jumped from Verona and is our reality; there seems to be no peaceful path to common ground. At the end of Romeo and Juliet, as bodies litter the stage, the contending families understand the cost of reflexive hatred and make the first overtures toward reconcilliation. In our tragedy, The President-elect speaks of unity and mended fences, but we don’t hear that wish expressed by the President or those who believe or accept lies coming from the White House. Former friends consider the President beleaguered, victimized by enemies of the nation; I consider the President transparently self-serving and dangerously dismissive of the Constitution and the rule of law. How do I respond to those who have been convinced that people who hold my convictions are traitors, whose actions are not only dangerous but demonic. What can I say to the even the moderate partisan loyalists who may not loathe me personally, but who believe that I and those who hold my beliefs cannot be allowed to have a place in the governing of the nation, who accede to those who deny my party the privilege of serving the nation by election even when the means of disenfranchisement are despicable.
We rail aganist the venal criminality of actions at the highest level of government, but cronyism has been an unfortunate reality for generations, and the adage that power corrupts absolutely has borne out time and again. The difficulty today is that while pillaging and looting still takes place at the top, in our Bizarro World, loyalty to the looters has become an article of faith, animated by a cult of personality and reactionary willingness to believe the most absurd theories of conspiracy. Even those who do not personally believe that progressive liberalism is satanic are standing with those who do and who are willing to go to any length to subjugate those who disagree.
It appears that the terrible reality is that partisanship remains unresolved even though a bloody Civil War cost the nation lives on both sides. The failure of Reconstruction assured the continued suppression of Black lives, insidious and often deadly. Lee’s may have surrendered at Appomattox, but we have remained two nations. We are no longer defined by longitude; there is no Mason-Dixon line between Republicans and Democrats, even in the state we label Red or Blue, even in families, even in friendships.
I remain fond of people whose convictions do not agree with mine, but as they support those who wish me harm, friendship fades. Anger has given way to regret. I am saddened by the prospect of the great American experiment in democracy shattered one friendship at a time.