Four months into the coronavirus crisis, and four tortuous months until the next presidential election, I’m beginning to wonder whether we’ll make it to next weekend. Every day, every hour, every fricking minute these days is a slog. Everything is a battle. Everybody’s mad.
Whaddya say — just spitballing here — that we all self-isolate and not come out again until November, huh? Hibernate for a while. Go to our respective corners and chill. Because, honestly, everything’s an argument these days. Everything. It’s exhausting.
* Virus? Real deal or overblown? Pick one. You can’t be in the middle.
* Masks? For ’em, or consider the mere idea an assault on our god-given liberties? C’mon. Which one?
* Opening for business in the middle (middle if we’re lucky!) of a pandemic? Yes or no? For or against? Speak up. Your 401k depends on it.
* Start schools on time this fall with the virus raging? What, you don’t care about our kids?
And then this: Black Lives Matter? What about that? And this: Do you think it’s finally time to boot the mascot for the Washington NFL team (or the Indians or Braves or the Miami U. RedHawks or Florida State Seminoles or Chicago Blackhawks or the Kansas City Chiefs or whoever Warriors)?
Dump all vestiges of the Confederacy? Every statue, obelisk, street name, and cemetery plot? Sandblast Mount Rushmore and Stone Mountain? Send white Jesus packing?
Is a master bedroom really something we want in our houses in 2020? Or do you think our current “cancel culture” is going a little overboard? Or maybe it’s way past due to look at these things?
The polarization of America is at an absolute zenith right now, and if you don’t believe it … well, screw you. You’re wrong.
I don’t even want to talk to you about it. Get out of my face.
I had a friend a few years ago — yeah, you can see where this is going — who, on the political spectrum, leaned a lot farther right than I do. But we maneuvered around the issues of the day, the politics and all the dreadful headlines, and stuck to sports and work and business. He’s a smart guy. Good at what he does. I enjoyed talking to him.
But we got to tapping one day on Facebook messenger — something I never use, and certainly haven’t since — about systemic racism. Not sure how we got there, but we did, and right away I think we both knew that we were entering tricky territory. This was, as I said, a few years ago, before everyone got really mad.
Well, we should have known better. He was adamant that systemic racism simply didn’t exist. I was appalled that he couldn’t admit that, even in a small degree, it might. He basically called me a brain dead, mainstream-media sucker. I, rising above the rancor (really), said I could point him toward several peer-reviewed studies that show consistent, embedded, racist behavior in the society at large.
He would have none of it. A hasty, somewhat haughty signoff followed.
I haven’t heard from him since. And that exchange was tame compared to now.
Maybe the only exercise more dead-tiring than arguing all the damn time is trying to avoid arguing all the damn time. Tiptoeing around the outrage of the day — while passing a neighbor on your way to the mailbox, or reading the neighborhood blog, or tooling around on Facebook, or simply talking to friends and family — is almost impossible to pull off. Landmines are all around. Today’s political “spectrum” is nothing of the sort. You’re on one end or the other. There’s no other option.
We have neighbors, great neighbors, who we will soft-shoe big honking orbits around to avoid getting into a political conversation. When old friends sound off on the local bulletin board, we cringe, but remain silent. Other friends go radical on Facebook (what a great place to throw a grenade and not worry about the shrapnel) and we shake our heads. Because, sometimes, it’s just not worth getting into it.
Yes, I know that staying silent is no way to deal with all this hostility. Silence is violence, the signs in the streets say. There’s truth to that. We’re in the situation we are in now because too many of us have been avoiding rather than confronting.
I know. I know.
But when everybody’s so mad, it’s just so hard. Even when there’s an agreement to try to stay civil — good luck coming across one of those little detentes — the back and forth, the constant debate is agonizing.
We are, if we’re lucky, in a time of great change in this country. The anger, the pain, the violence, the divisiveness that we see now, every day, is a part of it. If we’re to truly change — and we sure can’t keep this up forever — this churning is probably necessary.
If we’re lucky, we’ll look back on this time in a few decades (or our children will) as the older among us recall the 1960s, as a time when upheaval changed this country for the better. We’ll see this as a period when a pandemic brought us closer together, forced us to face some ugly truths, and took us a difficult step toward being better.
If we’re lucky. In a few decades. If we ever move past being so damn mad all the time.