“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Uttered by the comic character, Pogo — the Doonesbury of his day — these words of warning were issued by creator Walt Kelly in 1970 in support of the first Earth Day and to highlight how people were trashing the environment.
Nearly a half century later, they are as applicable as ever, though what’s being trashed now is the civility that has traditionally underpinned our political, social and cultural environment.
Plastic containers aren’t the enemy today; rather it’s the hard heads on all sides of what is seeming more and more like an unfathomable divide.
We fought a bloody Civil War and 153 years later we are still feeling its effects.
Our new uncivil war has all the hallmarks of something that could be as malignant as the war between the states.
Now, it’s the war between tribes, increasingly circling their wagons against the “others,”
who are doing the same.
And, of course, it all starts with Donald Trump who in a few short years has done more to turn neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend with his constant litany of insults, attacks, demeaning comments and outright lies, lies, lies than anyone since at least Joe McCarthy.
He revels in it. For Trump you’re either with him 100 percent or you’re an enemy. My way or the highway isn’t a throwaway phrase for Trump, it’s a way of life.
And it has morphed ugly, turning us into a nation of blues and reds, us and them, Trump Forever or Trump Never.
In the short time he’s been in office, our polarization is near complete: I saw a survey on CNN this morning that said 90 percent of Republicans back Trump and 10 percent of Democrats.
Jeremy Peters wrote a piece for the New York Times a few days ago headlined As Critics Assail Trump, His Supporters Dig in Deeper.
There was such an overwhelming reaction he gave interviews explaining his reporting: “This almost Silent Majority, Nixonian phenomenon is happening right now where you have a lot of Republicans who feel like the left and the media are badly overreacting to the Trump administration, and holding him to an unfair standard a way that is now so routine and so omnipresent that they are outraged by the outrage.”
Meanwhile, of the Left he says, “There is a certain subset of Democrats and media critics who, every time there is a story quoting somebody talking favorably about Trump, will tune out and say it is useless and unworthy and why is the Times or other outlets like the Times giving these people a platform.”
Which leads to author Amy Chua: “In Political Tribes,” she writes that no group in America today feels “comfortably dominant. Every group feels attacked, pitted against other groups….for the right to define the nation’s identity. In these conditions, democracy devolves into zero-sum group competition – pure political tribalism.”
All of which leads me to Sarah Sanders and her supper date at the Red Hen restaurant last weekend.
Since I despise Trump and all things associated with Trumpism, my first reaction when I heard she had been denied service was nothing short of, well, glee and schadenfreude, the wonderful German word that means the pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.”
And what had Sanders done to me? Nothing. Simply not behaved as a press secretary should, in my opinion.
But I’ve become so entrenched in my tribe’s values that I felt nothing short of triumphant that one of the “good” people on our side had humiliated one of the “bad” people on the side of the evil one.
That feeling lasted a couple of hours. Then I started to have second thoughts. Gleeful about a restaurant confrontation?
It was tottering when I heard Rep. Maxine Waters call on her supporters to take it to Trumpsters, “…And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
And I felt shame, real shame.
Worse, I realized that I’ve become one of “them,” one of the people I loathe who say anything in our tribe is good but anything in your tribe is bad. Someone willing to overlook facts that don’t agree with their belief and accept falsehoods that do.
And that was now me, gleeful over a woman not allowed to enjoy a restaurant meal. Despicable.
In short, I’ve become the problem. I have seen the enemy and it is me.
And I don’t like it one little bit. It’s not easy to have to admit that you’ve become a bigot, but if the malformed shoe fits, you’ve got to wear it.
I’m going to need to process this on an ongoing basis. I need to fight to try to get back to Michelle Obama’s wonderful “When they they go low, we go high.”
Only if all of us work to lower the white heat of our cultish beliefs are we going to have any chance to keep this country together as we wander through this political maelstrom.
We have to work—and work very, very hard — to stop this concept of us and them before we go too far to ever be able to reclaim our civility and our respect for each other.
As Nelson Mandela said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”