In one view, the world is a dangerous place because there are bad people "out there " who must be destroyed and until that happens we need to fall into line behind a strong leader. In this worldview, based on the idea of inherent personal qualities such as good and evil, loyalty and disloyalty, crises are responded to in personal terms such as "blame " and "punishment ". If someone punches you, you punch back without asking questions and you punish anyone who doesn 't help you with the punching. Democratic ideals and civil liberties are peacetime luxuries we cannot afford to hold onto right now.
Two worldviews. Each leading to radically different and fundamentally irreconcilable ideas about what we should do in a given crisis. Each worldview becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you come out guns a-blazing because you expect the world to be a violent place, you will find the world to be a violent place; if you pursue non-violent solutions, you will find the world to be a generally cooperative place. The point is, there is no point in trying to "prove " you 're right. We 're all right. We get the worlds we expect.
But can we continue this way, with a fault line running right down the middles of families, friends and neighbors? Can half of America remain at furious loggerheads with the other half? Can we continue as two nations in one country?
Maybe, but I don 't think so. As long as there is a healthy spectrum of opinions and dialogue, America can make incremental course corrections and deal with virtually any challenge from within or from without. But when we 've become perfectly polarized into two warring camps more concerned with winning than surviving, we have a dangerously unstable situation where we cannot respond effectively to any crisis.
Like two men in a horse suit pulling in wildly different directions without regard to the other, we are stumbling and bumbling toward a future of war, bottomless debt, jobs sent overseas, decimation of the middle class, poverty, scarcity of basic healthcare and other services, suspension of civil liberties and, for our nation as a whole, second-class status in the world.
Personally, I really like our life in America and all the good things we have, both material and societal. I don 't want these splendid legacies torn from our grasp. So I would like to suggest a path out of this morass. It begins with common ground.
Regardless of your politics or my politics, we simply must find some common ground so we can start rebuilding our nation. On this I think I hope we can all agree.
Is there any common ground left? I think there is. If we look just a little below the surface, I think it will reveal itself to be the desire for national unity and the recognition that unity is the sine qua non for tackling any and all problems we face.
But we need to be careful: There are two paths to unity. One of them leads to hell.
The first is simple: force everyone to conform to the one, "correct " worldview (you 're either "with us " or "against us "). Though dividing people this way may afford power to the divider, it is an unstable arrangement and has never in history survived for very long. Leaders who use divisiveness to catapult themselves into power eventually discover they need to apply escalating levels of brutality to maintain the status quo.
So remember, every time you point to another American and call him or her unpatriotic for being conservative, liberal, red state, blue state, whatever you are acting out a script perfected by tyrants.
In contrast, the second path to unity is the path of inclusion, of diversity, listening, accommodation, consensus. Leaders who take this path surely take the more difficult one, but it is the path of true strength. The names Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King come to mind.