Friday, September 3, 2010
If I sound even more irascible than usual lately, it's because I've been through a messy divorce.
Well, that's a little dramatic, I suppose, since I'm talking about a former friend and not my wife of thirty-nine years (in two days). It's a guy with whom I've always shared major disagreements on all the things they say break people up: birth certificates, mosque locations, religion, politics, civil rights, gay rights, church and state, global warming, which way to hang the toilet paper, and where you squeeze the toothpaste tube. But for several years, because of other things in common -- including, I thought, inquisitive and skeptical minds -- we'd managed to maintain a rewarding friendship. Notwithstanding the occasional blowup, we could discuss these issues in ways that some might consider rational.
Suddenly, it's not that Obama is simply wrong about everything. (There have been times when my former friend actually admitted he'd done certain things well, including his much greater attention to the needs of vets of Bush's wars than Bush ever gave.) Now, Obama is an Islamist plant, controlled by unseen forces, deliberately trying to destroy our country, and it's unconscionable that I don't recognize it. Now, I'm not just a blind apologist for this treasonous incarnation of pure evil (yes, he's used terms like that), it's that I'm a Jew; and Jews, he averred, collaborate with the enemy. (In that little pearl, he began by talking about Michael Bloomberg, but then, fully knowing my background, generalized.)
Yike. (Which rhymes...)
He seems to think that pictures -- sent to him by his fellow wingers, forwarded to me with relish -- of Obama on a bicycle at Martha's Vineyard, juxtaposed with some (non-simultaneous) of Bush at a VFW hall, prove something very, very important. I implored him to argue about policies, not bicycles, especially since, when he wasn't posing for cameras while "clearing brush," Bush rode his bike all the time and since at the same time in his presidency, Bush had taken twice the vacation days. I didn't -- but I wish I had -- point out that Bush can visit VFW lodges until the troops come home, and it will never make up for sending them, unprepared, into an unnecessary and unplanned war, making Afghanistan immeasurably worse for the kids fighting there by abandoning it prematurely, and standing for woefully inadequate care for the returning troops.
Ignoring the entreaty, my former friend insisted again that bicycles trump, oh, I guess, efforts for mass transit, energy independence, electric grids, teachers, cops, firefighters, kids with PTSD and TBI, health care, and saving the auto industry as proof -- proof! -- that Obama is evil. And that I'm a black-hearted accomplice. (And now, in his most naked America-hate yet, the president is trying to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The bastard.)
Suddenly, the man says he never knew these things about me, that I was a liberal. Weird. I've been writing this stuff for years, and as recently as a couple of months ago he wished we were neighbors so we could talk it over on his porch, with our favored clear spirits, on ice.
We spent a week together last year. Hardly a stranger to my views, he's visited here, with his wife, most recently earlier this year. He's found my ideas on miracles (who put the geese in the jet engines?) and death (we become what we were before we were born) interesting and challenging, even as he disagreed. Now, he says I constantly bash Christians. (Okay, I sort of do: but only the ones who want to make it the law of the land and substitute it for science in my schools. And I bash all religions. Except Buddhism. I kind of like Buddhism.)
Well, this lost friendship plucks out not even the smallest fiber from the fabric of space-time. My disappointment is not that I can't change his mind, but that we're no longer in the same universe. My greater concern, though, is the extent to which it speaks of where we are as a nation.
Polarized to the point of putrefaction, is where. If two guys who actually knew each other, face to face, talked about old wars and old loves, can't maintain with differing views, who the hell can? And it might just be that the worst possible explanation is really true: there have always been chasms between right and left, but there were also always a few bridge-builders (of which we were, sort of, two). What there hasn't ever been is a black president.
This resorting, by the right, to lies and conspiracy theories about birth and religion and terrorists and not one of us. Where does it come from, if not that? This absolute refusal to argue the issues but to focus on made-up "otherness" -- comes from the same place as the Jew thing, I guess. Looking at Glenn Beck's all-white rally of the aggrieved, it's hard not to believe it.
But I'll take them at their word.
When this person, to whom I've actually said "I love you, man" (and anyone who knows me knows how monumental that is), and who said the same to me along with promises that "I'll never let you down," pulls the Jew card out of his... uh... pocket and claims that had he known where I stood on things he'd have stayed away... well, I actually worry a little for his mental state but a lot more for the country's. We're too far gone, we're past the point, we've set ourselves asunder in ways that are simply irreparable. And it comes at a time when the opposite is needed more than it ever has been and, ironically, when we have a president most suited to have bridged the gaps. (Ain't no R candidate on the horizon who'd try; sure as hell ain't any in the Congress.)
Selective memory of my once and former friend aside, the president did try, hard, when he took office. Congressional Rs literally marveled that they'd had more face time with Obama in a month than they'd had with Bush in eight years. To the outrage of many liberals, Barack Hussein Obama had Rick Warren speak at his inaugural. Remember that? (All part of the plot, I assume.)
And then it dawned on those elected Rs: if we let Obama succeed, we're screwed. Not the country, of course -- who cares about that; the more important things: party and personal power. So they abandoned ship when we needed them the most. Abetted by the RWS™ and their collaborators at Fox "news", they've spewed nothing but fear and hate and lies -- never solutions (other than "second amendment" ones) -- ever since. Knowing they had no cogency or credibility on policy, and realizing that they could make money -- bags of it -- by betting on and stoking the prejudices and fears and zombie beliefs of their base; substituting soilage for substance, they anakined to the dark side. Take down the man, at the expense of the country. How enthusiastically they've been followed.
It's been bad enough to watch the creation and funding and astroturfing of a bunch of frightened, angry, self-sorry, uninformed, gullible, paranoid, deliberately and proudly fact-free teabaggers. But now, out of the blue, like the predator drones that our president fires at (his fellow) terrorists in numbers greater than his predecessor, they got to my former friend, too. If him, then more than enough to bring us -- themselves included -- down.
Who didn't know whom?
OTOH, I gotta admit it makes it a hell of a lot easier.
Postscript: as if a gift from the gods, I've received an email from another of my conservative friends. He writes a weekly newspaper column about which we frequently correspond. Arriving just when I'd mostly finished the above, here's what he wrote, in part: "...although we may disagree on some things, I've come to respect your opinions, thoughts, and arguments. In fact, next to Leonard Pitts, yours is the site I visit most often..."
His words are restorative to my dying hope for reaching across divides. It's not enough to save our country, but it could go a little way to saving me. So, thanks, Larry. (When I asked if it was okay to quote him, he said: "Go ahead. We need more people to understand that differences of opinion are still permitted and can, in fact, be enjoyed."
Enjoyed. Imagine that.