To live in interesting times, is it a blessing or a curse?
To live in the era of Donald Trump would be a blessing, at least a temporary one, for those who are sometimes derisively referred to as Trumpsters.
But for those who think the former president is a continuing and frightening threat to the American democracy, such interesting times would be a curse.
Last week, on the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, President Joe Biden broke his silence about the former president and came out swinging about the interesting times in which we live.
“At this moment,” he said, “we must decide: What kind of nation are we going to be? Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people? Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies?”
We might like to stand up and say, “No, no, no. We are not going to be like that.”
But the answers to Biden’s questions are far from certain.
His confrontation with the former president was a stark reminder of how intensely divided we have become.
Our attitudes about the events of last year’s Jan. 6 show the division. One group thinks the effort to overturn the presidential election results, including the attack on the Capitol, is nothing short of treason.
A second group thinks those activities were patriotic efforts to save the country from losing its roots to a group of people who have sold out the American dream.
I count myself in the first group, but I grew up in the second group.
I know these people from growing up in the South at a time when our small world was controlled by white men. Foreigners and Yankees were few and far between, and people of color knew their place. My high school sports teams were called the Rebels, and we proudly waved the Confederate flag to stir up the crowd at football games.
Our world was settled, and our people made up the America that was the focus of our loyalty. I have changed, but I understand that many of those I call our people feel that our world is being stolen from them.
Or that it has already been stolen and the only way to get it back where it belongs is to fight.
So is our country now so divided and passionate that we are headed towards another civil war?
In “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them,” Barbara F. Walter, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, writes, “I’ve seen how civil wars start, and I know the signs that people miss. And I can see those signs emerging here at a surprisingly fast rate.”
What I call our people, she calls “sons of the soil.”
Writing about Walter’s book in the Jan. 6 edition of The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg explains about the sons of the soil, “Their privileged position was once so unquestioned and pervasive that they simply assume it’s their due, and they will take to violence in order to cling to power.”
Are we close to civil war with our people of my growing-up years at war with my people of today?
Goldberg is not sure, but she writes, “Warning signs include the rise of intense political polarization based on identity rather than ideology, especially polarization between two factions of roughly equal size, each of which fears being crushed by the other.”
Our people of yesterday versus my people of today?
I hope not.
But I am worried.
D.G. Martin hosted “North Carolina Bookwatch,” for more than 20 years.
To view prior programs: https://video.pbsnc.org/show/nc-bookwatch/episodes/.
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