As I write this, we’re only a few days removed from the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and the mailing of explosive devices to prominent foes of Donald Trump. Our hearts break for the friends and families of the victims.
These are hate crimes, pure and simple. Perhaps you are reacting as I am – wondering what is happening to our world and how we can reverse these horrifying trends.
How bad is it? In a report to be released this week, based on a survey completed in September, the Simon Wiesenthal Center found that more than 40% of Americans believe the country is headed toward a civil war.
Who is to blame? According to Rabbi Marvin Hier, Founder and Dean of the Center, “More than 80% of the voting public blames either the presidency, mainstream media or Congress and it breaks down roughly along party lines. Democrats and independents believe the executive branch is the problem. Republicans blame mainstream media and, to a lesser extent, Congress.”
According to research by the Pew Center, many of us literally hate those with different beliefs. We don’t want to associate with them and fear our children might marry them. “They” are, to many, literally sub-human.
Horrifically, that’s why eradicating them seems reasonable to some people. As American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce said in 1877, “When complete agreement could not otherwise be reached, a general massacre of all who have not thought in a certain way has proved a very effective means of settling opinion in a country.”
Today’s literature is rife with commentary from notable authors on the nature of our problems. It’s hard to consume news in any form without hearing terms like “polarization,” “class conflict,” and “divided society.”
Books about problems in our country include Bowling Alone (Robert D. Putnam), What’s the Matter with Kansas (Thomas Frank), Strangers in Their Own Land (Arlie Russell Hochschild) and, more recently, Hillbilly Elegy (J. D. Vance) and the just-released book Them, by Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse.
Recent articles include Jonathan Rauch’s essay “The Constitution of Knowledge,” in which Rauch states “America has faced many challenges to its political culture, but this is the first time we have seen a national-level epistemic attack: a systematic attack, emanating from the very highest reaches of power, on our collective ability to distinguish truth from falsehood.”
Many with whom I’ve spoken say Oakmont is a microcosm of greater American society. And, indeed, it’s hard not to see parallels. The war against truth has certainly not left our shores untouched.
What’s different in Oakmont is the scope of the problems over which we disagree. Whereas the national discussion concerns climate change, health care and immigration, we become enraged about pickleball, golf courses and dog parks.
If Oakmont can unite about anything, perhaps it can be around the idea that Oakmont should be a sanctuary from the “us vs. them” dichotomy. All the physical amenities in the world will never provide sufficient distraction and relief from a culture of outrage and hate. It will take a conscious decision on all our parts to refuse to accept the unacceptable.
While the world around us endures one tragedy after another, I believe all Oakmonters hope we can work together to keep Oakmont from descending into the same chaos. Working collectively and individually to call out those who seek to divide us and consistently encourage respectful dialogue between those representing different opinions is perhaps the only way to keep the infection of hatred and distrust from consuming us too.