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By Rabbi Yonason Goldson
Once ideology overrules a sense of common destiny, the writing is on the wall
E pluribus unum — Out of many, one.
Such a glorious sentiment, 240 years old this week, destined for the dustbin of history.
In contrast to the vitriol of the broadsheets from two centuries ago — which belied a common commitment to basic, “self-evident truths” — the unfiltered invective filling our airwaves today reveals a wholesale abandonment of common values or, even worse, of any values at all.
With the general election now reduced to a choice between the two most unpopular candidates in American history, the undeniable takeaway is that our population has splintered into four intractable camps, each unwillingly come to terms with any other. Here is a snapshot of who we now are.
Utopians. These are the supporters of Bernie Sanders, largely idealistic and unsophisticated millennials, enamored with the socialist senator’s genuine passion and entranced by his pollyana vision and historical myopia. Their ardent devotion is the reason Mr. Sanders has held his own against Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, if not in delegates. It is also the reason that the senator’s minions have no interest in the impossibility of his claims. If it sounds good, it must be good.
Left-wing ideologues. Hillary Clinton leads her party for 2016 for the same reason the Barack Obama displaced her in 2008: she is best positioned to protect the party establishment and perpetuate the party agenda. What is that agenda? Liberalism. Progressivism. Secularism. What do those words mean? It doesn’t matter, any more than it matters to New Yorkers who’s on the Yankees or to St. Louisans who’s on the Cardinals. I support my team because it’s my team. I don’t need a reason.
This is why server-gate and Benghazi and loyalty to a misogynistic husband and the unapologetic contempt for truth don’t matter to Hillary Clinton’s supporters, any more than the toxic corruption exposed by Lois Lerner and Jonathan Gruber and now Ben Rhodes matters to supporters of Barack Obama. Either they haven’t heard about it, or they don’t believe it, or they don’t care. Their candidate is their candidate because he — or she — is their candidate.
Reactionaries. Everyone understands that the popularity of Donald Trump has little to do with Donald Trump. It is a reaction to the Obama administration, to the Clinton dynasty, to the blatant partisanship of Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, to the fecklessness of John Boehner, to unchecked illegal immigration, to ISIS and the Taliban, to Putin and Assad, to the Iran deal, to Obamacare, to Ferguson, to Obergefell, and to bathroom legislation.
Trump supporters don’t care about ideology. They’re mad as hell, so they’ve turned to the one person who gives vent to their anger, no matter how much his rhetoric may resemble that of Benito Mussolini.
Pragmatists. I have omitted conservative ideologues by design, because there are so few of them left in existence. Indeed, Ted Cruz would certainly have fared better with more hardliners to rally around him. But thinking moderates rejected Cruz for his irascible reputation, preferring the lackluster John Kasich for the same reason they supported Mitt Romney: they want a leader able and willing to build consensus from a position of integrity.
But the pragmatists were doomed from the start precisely because they sought out the best possible candidate. Did Carly Fiorina’s managerial experience outweigh Marco Rubio’s congressional experience? Did Ben Carson’s character outweigh his lack of political savvy? Was Chris Christie’s impulsivity a greater deficit that Jeb Bush’s family name? In the end, pragmatic voters made principled choices that divided the most capable candidates and left the road open for the grand duke of reality television to steal the crown.
So where does that leave America? The most obvious solution is to carve up the country up as was done with the former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, demographic realities make such a plan unfeasible: Liberals occupy the big cities, Utopians live around college campuses, Reactionaries dwell in the rural precincts, while Pragmatists are scattered hither and yon. The necessary gerrymandering would make the partition of India a walk in the park.
A more reasonable possibility is to form new political parties and create a coalition government. But that’s a long shot — just ask libertarians. Our system was designed for two parties, and changing it might require constitutional reconfiguring that will never happen.
When all is said and done, revolution may be the only solution after all. Not that I’m advocating this, since revolutions don’t usually end as well as the one that gave birth to this country — especially without a healthy supply of Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Hamiltons on hand to see it through. There’s also the problem of national will.
Because this is the real problem: it’s not that we disagree, not that we see the world differently, and not that we can’t understand one another. The problem is that we don’t want to understand one another. We’d rather preach to the choir than attempt to engage those with whom we disagree. We want to cast our ideological opponents as evil, want to muzzle them, want to beat them into submission, want to win at all costs. And as long as that sad state of affairs remains unchanged, we will remain a nation divided against itself.
And, as such, we will not stand much longer.
Rabbi Yonason Goldson, a talmudic scholar and former hitchhiker, circumnavigator, and newspaper columnist, lives with his wife in St. Louis, Missouri, where he teaches, writes, and lectures.
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