How Trump can unite America

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A protester, left, and a counterprotester hold signs at a demonstration against Breitbart News March 12 in Los Angeles. - AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK
  • AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck
  • A protester, left, and a counterprotester hold signs at a demonstration against Breitbart News March 12 in Los Angeles.

There's a Facebook page that calls itself Unfriend Trump Supporters and tells the world, "It's time to finally tell your Facebook friends that you will not support those who support bigotry, sexism and xenophobia." In the eyes of those who aren't, to be a Trump supporter apparently is to be all those things. And sure enough, on my home page I see anguished "friends" turn to each other for counsel on whether to unfriend neighbors, classmates, even brothers and sisters who think intolerable thoughts. Rarely does anyone advise them, "Don't be silly."

The other day the New York Times ran a story  about "bubbles." These are the "personalized feedback loops" social media lock us into, "each with its own news sources, cultural touchstones and political inclinations." The high-minded and progressive stare across no-man's-land into the enemy bubble and can't believe their eyes. For instance, ProPublica just posted a story headlined "Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government." ProPublica toted up the former lobbyists, many now working for agencies that are supposed to regulate their old industries, and the former contributors to alt-right news sources like Breitbart, and the former Trump campaign staffers, one of whom graduated from high school in 2015 and now works for the Department of Labor.

Outrage follows outrage and what can anyone do in response but think pure thoughts, organize, and send their Facebook enablers packing?

It all reminds me of—I don't know—maybe Europe in 1913 or the USA in 1859; this is another of those eve-of-destruction moments when decent people can't look at themselves in the mirror if they aren't buckling on armor. We measure ourselves by what we refuse to countenance, and these days we refuse to countenance each other. Virtue has quietly taken the hand of bloodlust.

When history is generous it remembers times such as these as moments of "irreconcilable differences" when what could anyone do but slap leather? But some differences are irreconcilable only because we want them to be. Maybe it's because I have so many southern relatives I can't imagine not speaking to, but I don't think the differences dividing most Americans are anything close to irreconcilable. Trump's ideological zealots live in a world of their own, but most Americans aren't especially ideological. And if Donald Trump has deepened the gorge between Reds and Blues he's also made it easier to bridge.

Here's what happened last year—and I think Blues who knew it all along will find a lot of Reds in grudging agreement—America fucked up.

Leave it at that. All our political differences, just like all the sociological explanations that focus on class pitted against class, region against region, race against race, distract us from the day we reach this consensus. America fucked up—and, hey! it happens. Individually, we do it all the time. Some mad impulse gets into our heads and we do something that's nuts—like trying to pass a semi on a mountain curve, or swimming so far out into the lake we’ll never be able to swim back in. We marvel, as we wonder if we'll get out of this alive, Boy, have I fucked up!

This time it came over the whole country. The reality is that all of us, Blues and Reds alike, find ourselves careening crazily downhill in the wrong lane, speeding and pelted by sleet, as a foghorn wail from ahead sure sounds a lot like an oncoming truck.

What do people do when they realize they just fucked up? They focus. They put everything out of their minds except the task at hand—which is to survive. This is no time to cast blame or demand repentance. There's only one thing that's sure to keep "friends" you're disgusted with from ever accepting that we're in a horrible mess. That's to keep insisting they say they're sorry.

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