Honestly, these are days to try men’s (and women’s!) souls.
Can you remember a time when our nation has been this divided? The airwaves sizzle with anger, people are defensive and tempers are on a hair trigger. No matter who wins this presidential election, I feel like we have already lost so much as a group of united states.
This week I read Jennifer Chiaverini’s historical novel, Fates and Traitors. It’s a novel about John Wilkes Booth and the women who loved him - and yes, even he had women who loved him. I never had any sympathy for Booth. Abraham Lincoln is one of my historical hero’s, and so the man responsible for his assassination fills me with contempt.
But her novel is important reading, because she clearly depicts the way Booth’s emotions affected his behavior. He deeply believed that Lincoln was responsible for the destruction of his beloved country and of a way of life he held dear. He was heartsick about the direction the country was going. And while I don’t agree with the details, I can actually sympathize with the emotion driving them. I have similar emotions about the election and the possibilities in front of us.
American in 1865 was a nation about as divided as it was possible to be. For the first time in our history, we were literally killing each other. Think about that for a moment. What could be more horrific? Turning against each other with guns and swords, making our very own towns and cities into bloody battlefields, literally pitting brother against brother in a war of ideology and commerce and lifestyle.
What a nightmare.
Could that happen again? I never believed it could until lately, when we’ve allowed hateful rhetoric to persistently take precedence over logic, morality, polite discourse, common sense, and general human decency.
Nor am I immune to the anger, the lashing out, the virulent thoughts. If you know me, you likely consider me a gentle, kind, tolerant person. And usually I am. But lately, I am prone to angry outbursts, foot stomping tirades, and yes, even thoughts of violence and retribution.
When I was in elementary school, my favorite song in group music was the old Woody Guthrie tune, This Land is Your Land. I loved the idea of all us sharing this great land, “from California to the New York islands, from the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters.” Pride and gratitude surged in my little chest when I sang the words: “This land was made for you and me.”
In the 1960’s, my “you and me” was my family, my school friends, my neighbors, my animals. My little world extended only so far as the suburbs of Detroit, and summer visits to relatives in the bluegrass of Kentucky. But I had dreams of seeing the rest of this big land of ours, and it was exciting to think about that I shared it with so many other like-minded people, going about their lives and loving the land we called home.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about all the times in our nation’s history when our unity and our basic principles have been threatened. There are many. In my lifetime alone the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, a Presidential assassination, the Nixon scandal.
And then of course, 9/11. Remember how we felt united in grief and outrage and shock after that horrible event? Remember what a sense of mission we had as a nation? “We won’t let the terrorists win!” we cried.
But I feel like right now we are letting them win. The international world is laughing at us, this young upstart nation only 200 and some odd years old. We have allowed a mean-spirited, unruly, ignorant bully to hold sway over our democratic process and drag us into the trenches of disorder, disunity, disharmony, and disgrace. The terrorists groups we fear so much can simply sit back on their hands and watch us do their work for them.
I don’t know what’s going to happen on Tuesday, November 8, or what’s going to happen in the weeks and months and years after it. Honestly, I am a mess of anxiety about it.
But I do know we need a strong, steady hand to pull us out of this trench we’ve dug ourselves into. Because frankly, I am sick of it down here, and I want out.