To the Editor: Some people claim that the fractures and divisions in America are no worse today than they were in the 1960s. But the divisions in the 1960s were about a limited number of specific issues and policies, particularly racial disparities, the wisdom of continuing to fight the Vietnam War and the primacy of corporate capitalism. Three fundamental issues, to be sure, but two of the three concerned issues of policy and politics. No one was questioning whether Vietnam existed. No one was claiming that the military casualties were really just crisis actors. No one was claiming that China and Venezuela had manipulated the presidential election. No one was claiming that Lizard people from far off planets were behind the student protests. No one was claiming that Henry Kissinger tortured babies to stay young.
You can eventually heal divisions that have some basis in reality. People can evaluate the real world consequences of the policies, new facts can be added to the discussion, opinions can be changed, policies can be altered. How can you heal the divide between those who believe in lizard people and those who do not? How do you come to terms with people convinced that a dead Venezuelan set in motion a lengthy plot to take over the entire electoral process in the United States? Those incredibly difficult tasks are brought even closer to impossibility when a hefty chunk of the people in elected office believe the imaginary things, and another hefty chunk of the people in elected office pretend to believe the imaginary things for reasons of personal ambition. If that didn’t make healing a near impossible task, throw in the presence of multiple media outlets devoted to convincing their audience that the imaginary is real, and the real is merely an elaborate hoax designed to deceive them.
No, apart from racial disparities continuing to fuel violence and resentment, the fractures and divisions in America in 2021 are not really like those of the 1960s. They are far deeper and extend down into the bedrock that keeps the nation from falling into the molten core below. There is a difference between viewing your opponents as naïve, insensitive, greedy, or misguided, and viewing them as supernatural demons bent on destroying all that is good while eating you and your children alive. That difference is what will eat all of us alive.