The Country is On a Hopeful New Path, But…

But Serious Danger Runs Deep and Wide – This Will Not Go Away on Its Own


A Country Divided? It’s Worse Than We Feared

 For a long time, many of us felt that the country was not as divided as many said. The problem was so-called leaders who thrived on conflict; beyond them, people agreed on more than was apparent. I count myself among that chorus. It appears we were wrong.

If this past election taught us anything, it is that not only is the divide real, it is based in alternate realities. And much of it is armed in a seriously dangerous level. We have some real challenges to work through. An internal threat to a democracy is almost always more dangerous and more difficult to deal with than an external threat. So it is with us today.

 A Lethal Cocktail Has Been Mixed

Many elements have come together into a toxic, deadly mix.

One of these is Reactionism – the feeling that people like me have been left out by elites all around. This leads to smoldering anger that responds powerfully to a demagogue like Trump. This is what brought him to power. Once people like this think they are validated by a spokesman, they become even more convinced that they are right and move even more into extremes.

To be clear, Trump had a powerful negative effect, but he is not the key. I believe he will increasingly fade, but the trouble he helped raise up will continue.

Two More Components

Racism is, as we so painfully see now, is another cancer we have danced around too long. For many of us, this might be the moment to face up to where we are and how we got here. But recognize that no small number of our fellow Americans have firmly gone the other way.

They see the only future for them is in a racially divided country that is run by one race. There is no interest in a more perfect unity based on equality and fairness. They are increasingly militant, are developing a philosophical structure, and are armed. More on this shortly.

Xenophobia is a part of this infection as well. The idea that America should be some sort of isolated fortress appeals to these folks. The irony of thinking this about a country founded on diversity and immigration does not occur to them

Trump’s Temporary Yet Deadly Role

 All these elements have been with us all along. Trump brought them into the daylight. He gave permission to say out loud what once was muttered in private. It’s no coincidence that violence based on race, religion, or sexual orientation surged during the Trump era.

Trump convinced these people they could say it out loud. In that sense, Trump served his purpose. He has already begun to fade. He lacks the discipline and resources to hold on, although he will pop up. The Proud Boys have already turned on him. But he opened the pandora’s box. It will not be easy to reclose.

The Deadly Mix

All this formed into a deadly mix super charged by four critical elements: social media, weapons, cultism, and worst of all – religion.

Social Media: We have spoken of this before and will again. We have a nation – a planet – living in alternate realities. Negative and alternate communications have always existed – look up Father Coughlinin the 1930’s for a good example.

We have been heading for a cliff for many years. Starting with the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, then talk radio, then the distortion of the internet, then Fox “News,” then the Dark Web and sites like Parler. We need to guard the First Amendment, but this is not a collection of town squares. These are unbelievably powerful megaphones that create whole realities. We must figure out how to break their hold.

Weapons: I confess to having never understood the hold of guns on so many Americans. And I was armed for 30 years. As a soldier, I fired about everything imaginable, at times at other people who were returning the favor. But the mania for guns in this country is a sickness, elevated essentially to a religion.

We chose to look the other way for too long. Now we have a widespread problem of seriously armed groups all over the country, but especially in the West, further armed with confrontational and Dooms Day mythology.

This will all be hard and dangerous to address. But address it we must. Groups must be faced up to, broken up, prosecuted and disarmed. Start with a domestic terrorism law. Some of these groups have ties with criminal elements, with anarchist, and with foreign entities. These are not wine or cheese; they won’t get better with time. January 6 was a wake-up call. Time to clean house.

Cults and Religion

Cultism: Fed by the aforementioned media bubbles, some seriously nuts belief systems have sprung up in this country, and that feeds all the other problems. QAnon certainly leads that roster, but they are not alone.  Genuinely weird mixtures of Christianity, Norse mythology, conspiracy theories that likely require hard drugs to think up, and more.

More on this in the next section but know that this sort of thing is what ends up in Donald Trump being seen as sent by God, or some guy in Guyana telling everyone to drink poison. Beliefs built on personalities and ungrounded mythologies is dangerous.

Religion: The big brother of Cultism. It has too often been the handmaiden of right-wing politics in this country, especially in the Trump era. Religion is problematic in the best of times. It usually lacks the standards of proof we demand in most other areas. It is easily distorted and misused. When you have a system that some people say they speak to and for God and you should take their direction – disaster is ahead.

All that came to ugly fruition with the evangelical right and its lash up with Trump. People were preached to by those they trusted and empowered that Trump’s election was God’s will. It was a short leap to say that voting for anyone else was a sin. From there, it was a smooth step for Franklin Graham to say that 10 Republicans who had the courage to vote for impeachment were like Judas. Religion and politics are more often than not are a terrible mix, contaminating both. In our current situation, it provides a false moral foundation and a blessing for terrible things. We need to call this out and break it.

 No One Wanted a Fight

So, we let it all slide. The clues were there, increasingly visible. We worried about the First Amendment and constitutional rights (which we should). But we didn’t see all of these elements coming together and now we have some profound challenges before us. Wish us luck.

Bill Clontz, Founder, Agents of Reason      Bill Clontz

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2 replies to The Country is On a Hopeful New Path, But…

  1. What was the background legislation or ruling that makes it possible for media to present opinion, rumor, and lies as “news” with no attempt to present the other side? Can that be cancelled if it was a law or court case? Or maybe we just slid into it, with the resulting two angry camps facing different sides of every story….

    • Actually, they have always been free to do so. Some of the stuff printed around the American Revolution would curl your hair. Rules came in for broadcast media as TV spread, in the form of the Fairness Doctrine, but that was repealed in the 1980’s. Definitely to relook our options going forward. The tools for misuse are so destructive. Will not be an easy one to crack but surely we can do better.

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