Friday, June 3, 2016
Can we bring our divided continent back together?
“What is the Continental Divide?” my wife said.
A natural question. We were standing Tuesday at the “Continental Divide Overlook” at Eldorado Canyon State Park in Colorado. I wish language allowed me to convey the view — even a photograph would fall short. A sweeping, 50- mile wide panorama, starting, to the left, with the snow-capped Rockies, unfolding through pined mountainsides, distant valleys and rock gorges that set me pondering a possible connection between “gorge” and “gorgeous.”
I puffed the dust off my high school geology. “It refers to drainage,” I said. “The Rocky Mountains form a ridge, north and south. A drop of rain falling on the west side will, eventually, make its way to the Pacific Ocean. On the east, to the Atlantic.”
Hiking back down, the words “continental divide,” echoed in my head in a way that has nothing to do with hydrology. The United States is one of the few nations on earth that spans a continent. And we sure are divided, big time.
What divides us? Race, class, religion. Politics form the most gaping division right now. The differences are sharper than ever, with the Republicans firmly anti-government, pro-business, anti-immigrant, pro-white, anti-gay, pro-religion, anti-women (though they would argue they support women by making their difficult moral choices for them). And the Democrats pretty much the opposite.
The Republicans offer up presidential candidate Donald Trump, an unstable amateur who has never run for public office. And the Democrats are assembling, in typical, shambolic, herding cats fashion, behind Hillary Clinton, the former senator, former secretary of state. Not to forget Bernie Sanders tagging along, a nagging reminder that even our divisions have divisions.
You'd think a few miles on Rattlesnake Gulch Trail would be the perfect place to forget all this. But days into my supposed vacation, I had Trump on the brain. I found myself snapping photos of canyon walls and tweeting them with the caption, "It ain't Donald Trump that makes America great." The media was accused of focusing on Trump too much—I disagree, it's called "reporting the news"—but now that he has a scarily real chance of becoming the president of the United States, it's the responsibility of every patriotic American to point a quivering finger at his latest horror and scream, "Noooooo!!!"
This might be naive. We are so polarized, no one switches loyalty, no matter what. I sincerely believe that Donald Trump could go on television and drown a litter of puppies—really cute, golden retriever puppies—one by one, serving their damp little bodies into the audience with a tennis racquet, and his fans would shrug and explain that's just Donald being Donald, sticking it to the old, drowning-puppies-is-bad establishment.
Getting to nature is beneficial, the chief benefit being you realize how big, old, and indifferent the earth is to all our striving. Or to quote my favorite Park Service warning sign, "The mountains don't care."
So we have to care. And the main question we need to care about is this: Do all these divisions matter more than the one thing that unites us? And that one thing, in case you don't know, and many seem not to, is that we are all living here, all Americans, together, on our respective slopes of our Great Divide.
A year after 9/11, some grew nostalgic for the sense of shared purpose the attacks brought. We wondered when we might feel that again—maybe if space aliens attacked, we could band together again. But we don't need aliens for our way of life be threatened. We do that already. Nobody can hurt us like we can hurt ourselves. Even after Trump is—please God—defeated, the division will remain. We will realize that Trump wasn't a cause, but a symptom. We have proved ourselves very good at falling apart. It's getting back together, bridging this continental divide, that is the trick. We're the United States, remember. The founders put it in our name. So we wouldn't forget.
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Neil, did you know a different Continental Divide goes right through Chicago?ReplyDelete
It's where they dug the I&M Canal in the 1840s at the Chicago Portage, which where the South Ashland Bridge is.
East of there, the water flows to the lake & the St. Lawrence River into the Atlantic & west of there, it goes to the Mississippi & the Gulf of Mexico.
Yes, I mention it in the Chicago book -- Ridgeland Avenue in Oak Park also refers to it.Delete
Yes, I recall reading that in the book and well put. (By the way, your wife has lovely hair.)ReplyDelete
We could come together if we weren't beset by, of well if not pure evil, at least the forces of not at all niceness. Just imagine Trump supporters gathered for a political rally, and protesting them are pint sized people in colorful Central American ethnic cloths, wielding flutes and mandolins, and playing sad mournful melodies. Little stick like children with large doe eyes could hold signs saying "please let stay." I bet even the hardest hardcore Trump supporter's heart would melt, saying awe what were we thinking, of course they can stay. But nooooo, we have burly men with ink up one arm and down the other, smashing through barriers, waving Mexican flags, throwing eggs, yelling, and attacking Trump supporters. Not the best way to unify and win hearts and minds, not at all.ReplyDelete
What I don't get is why a good number of Veterans seem to be pro-Trump when he hid out in college during Nam and none of his offspring went into military service. It's like he is some pied piper. All of his followers can't be idiots. It must be about anger at the establishment/disillusionment. And no matter what he says or does, nothing sticks. He's the new Teflon candidate.ReplyDelete
Perhaps another thing that continues to divide us is the tendency to select the worst qualities of the worst examples of the "other" and treat them as if they're the defining characteristics of that group. All Republicans, certainly not the ones I associate with, do not fit the description above. Not a single person I've spoken to is happy about Trump. (That said, I'm sure at least some of them will vote for him because they don't like Clinton and/or disagree with her policies, if not her goals.)ReplyDelete
And yet there he is. You either support him, allow him, or oppose him. Is there a fourth thing?Delete
My main point is not so much about Trump as about your demonizing all Republicans as anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-woman, etc. It's just not true, and I feel such a posture is unworthy of you and can serve to undermine your greater position.Delete
To address the Trump issue, though, I feel sorry for Republicans this year. As you state, their options are limited. To vote for a possibly dangerous buffoon, to vote for the opposite party's candidate (whom many of them despise, as do many Democrats, for reasons not limited to misogyny), to essentially throw their vote away on a third-party or write-in candidate, or to not vote for president at all.
"Unworthy of you?" The Republicans are about to nominate a man who wants to bar all Muslims from the country. If they don't back that, they should be howling louder than I would howl if Clinton said anything similar. "Demonize" is a buzz word, like "bash." Here's a thought: if you don't want to be demonized, don't chum around with demons. Don't waste your sympathy on Republicans. They did this to themselves, and I don't see why some antique notions of manners should let them do this to the country as a whole. It's too important to pussyfoot around.Delete
Nicely said. Republicans have opposed if not condemned every single action of President Obama over the last 7 years and as a last thumb to the eye refuse to even talk about considering his nominee for the Supreme Court. Demons you call them and demons they are. Even Hillary's bad reputation is largely the result of their incessant and virulent attacks on her character.Delete
It is worth noting that more Republicans have voted against Trump than for him. (Granted, not all the alternatives were any more admirable.) Now they're all stuck with him, whether they voted for him or not.Delete
No they're not. I voted for Jim Edgar. To think that Hillary Clinton is bad in the way that Donald Trump is bad is to be blinded by partisanship. If Bernie Sanders, through some tragedy, became the nominee, I'd happily point out the irrational, almost insane sheen to his position. Though it wouldn't make him worse than Trump.Delete
The primaries are over! You don't have call out your party as you vote now. Please, please vote for a government that will do just that! Govern!!ReplyDelete
It's less about coming together, more about accepting our differences yet still be able to co-exist. It's not our country or their country to take back.ReplyDelete
It's too bad our political system allows the rabid minorities on both sides to control our politics to the point that moderate has become an evil word. What's amazing is how both parties have turned upon themselves, as if they can't move any farther to their respective cliffs. It's like how an angered dog will turn on the closest person or animal next to him if he can't reach the enemy on the other side of the fence. Truly frightening.
I for one have had it with all those who try to "reason" their voting for Trump. Far as I know, there's NEVER been a candidate running for President of the United States that is so undeserving of the country's support. Anyone who claims they're voting for him, or know others who are voting for him, because they can't stand Hillary Clinton -- I don't care how "good" or "decent" a Republican they are -- better be prepared to take the blame if he's elected. He is everything that America does NOT represent, and it will be your shame if he becomes our President.ReplyDelete