In these increasingly polarized United States, the very name of our country increasingly appears to be a misnomer. In so many ways, we are no longer united. Instead, we are polarized. We are no longer listening to, or talking with, each other; instead, we are shouting louder and louder, seeking to drown out the voices we don't want to hear, and trying to ensure that our voice dominates over all others. The situation is getting worse on an almost daily basis - so much so that many of us, including yours truly, fear that we cannot remain a united nation for very much longer. Far too many Americans appear to believe that unity is no longer possible, or even desirable.
The violence last week in Portland, OR is a very clear illustration. To conservatives, President Trump's deployment of Federal law enforcement agencies and officers is praiseworthy, upholding law and order. To left-wing progressives, it's tyranny, using strong-arm tactics to suppress free speech and the right to assemble. (Note that the constitutionally guaranteed right of "peaceful assembly" is not at issue here: the assemblies of rioters in Portland were anything but peaceful, so that description simply doesn't apply.)
For example, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi referred to federal officers in Portland as "stormtroopers". Senator Chuck Schumer called the actions of federal officers there an "abomination", and demanded an investigation. In one of the more crassly stupid references to the street violence there, the New York Intelligencer proclaims:
A showdown in policing philosophies is taking place on the streets of Portland, Oregon, where federal agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are working to suppress unrest following the death of George Floyd. In response to President Donald Trump’s directive to federal agencies to step up their efforts to protect federal properties from protesters, rapid-deployment teams of federal agents wearing camouflage uniforms and tactical gear have expanded their efforts from defending a U.S. courthouse to arresting protesters on the streets.
No, the federal agents are not "working to suppress unrest": they're defending federal property against violent rioters who are actively trying to damage or destroy it, as innumerable video clips demonstrate. No, they haven't "expanded their efforts": they're arresting violent rioters on the streets, because that's where they can be stopped before they damage or destroy federal property. Those arrested have been caught in the act - they're not innocent little baa lambs! Again, there are plenty of video clips out there. The truth is self-evident. However, that's not acceptable to the progressive left. As far as they're concerned, "protest" has become synonymous with "violence against the system". Anyone trying to suppress the latter is automatically seen as trying to suppress the former as well.
At the same time, there are those on the right wing of US politics who condemn and reject all aspects of the current protests/riots, arguing that "law and order" must take precedence in order to ensure the stability of society. This ignores the reality that in many places and agencies, law enforcement has long since overstepped the boundaries of legitimate policing. I've discussed many examples on this blog over the years: to name just one example, the maiming of an infant during a SWAT team raid.
In 2015 I wrote:
The reality is that American law enforcement officers and agencies in general have to an ever-increasing extent forfeited the trust of the people they're supposed to 'protect and serve'. They are no longer seen as impartial and fair in their approach. I find this very sad indeed, given that I've served in two law enforcement agencies; but even I now automatically trust only those officers whom I've come to know personally. Those with whom they associate, and their agencies, also get a pass from me on the basis that I don't think honorable, upright peace officers would be part of an organization where they could not be true to themselves. Others, however . . . I'll adopt a 'wait-and-see' approach, and exercise due caution.
When you add those two elements to the 'Ferguson effect', you get a picture of a law enforcement function that's in widespread disarray nationwide, across many agencies, local, state and federal. I don't pretend to know what the answer might be . . . but the problems are far more widespread and far deeper rooted than mere public distrust of police. The rot has set in very deep, and to excise it might take more will and determination on the part of police and political leaders and administrators than their conduct to date has demonstrated.
There's more at the link.
Fellow blogger Divemedic has written extensively about the same problem, including these three recent articles:
This extends to our tolerance even for those whom we presume are - or are supposed to be - on "our" side. I've had messages from long-time readers accusing me of becoming more "liberal" or "left-wing" or "progressive", because I won't unilaterally condemn all the current protests and demonstrations. To those individuals I can only say: I'm sorry, but you're wrong about me. My positions haven't changed over the years, as I can illustrate through the archives of this blog; but yours have. You've become more radical and dogmatic in your views on what's right and what's wrong, and you're condemning me because I haven't allowed my attitudes to harden in the same way.
I can only remind you that I'm first and foremost a pastor, responsible to God for trying to live as I believe He wishes. That's been my calling for decades. I've had to minister to people on any and every side of the political spectrum. (I still do. You'd be surprised how many people get in touch with me to help them deal with issues confronting them. I guess a pastor never truly retires.) I try to analyze every situation through that lens, applying Christian principles to what I see and hear. That upsets some people (sometimes, a lot of people): but that's who I am. If that offends you, I'm truly sorry. On the other hand, I have to remind you of Cromwell's Rule:
I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.
After the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, France, I wrote these words. If you substitute "left-wing" or "right-wing", "conservative" or "progressive" for the word "Muslim" in this excerpt, you can see how directly it applies to our present situation as well:
To me, the worst [aspect of violent conflict] is what it does to the human psyche. You become dehumanized. Your enemies are no longer people - they're objects, things, targets. You aren't shooting at John, whose mother is ill, and who's missing his girlfriend terribly, and who wants to marry her as soon as he can get home to do so. You're shooting at that enemy over there, the one who'll surely 'do unto you' unless you 'do unto him' first. He's not a human being. He's a 'gook'. He's 'the enemy'. He's a thing rather than a person. It's easier to shoot a thing than it is a person. So, right now, our boys are 'in the sandbox' shooting 'ragheads'. Their boys - those in Paris yesterday - were 'in the land of the infidels'. Those in this country on 9/11/2001 were 'in the land of the Great Satan'. They were - and still are - killing 'kaffirs', unbelievers . . . not human beings.
. . .
I've written before about how blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few is disingenuous and inexcusable. I still believe that . . . but events have overtaken rationality. People are going to start relating to 'Muslims' rather than to 'human beings', just as the extremists label all non-Muslims as 'kaffirs' or 'kufars' - unbelievers - rather than as human beings. For the average man in a European street, a Muslim will no longer be a 'person'. He's simply a Muslim, a label, a 'thing'. He's no longer French, or American, or British, no matter what his passport says. He's an 'other'. He's 'one of them' . . . and because of that, he's no longer 'one of us'.
. . .
We cannot 'kill them all and let God sort them out' ... There are too many of 'them' to kill them all, just as 'they' can never kill all of 'us'. We cannot kill our way out of terrorism. We cannot kill our way out of the dilemma of being human, with all the tragedy that entails.
May God have mercy on us all.
Again, more at the link.
I believe we're terrifyingly close to endemic violent conflict - a complete meltdown of civil society - in our cities. The attacks on federal property in Portland, OR, and the reaction of local authorities there to federal intervention, remind me very much of what happened in Charleston, SC in 1861. The Battle of Fort Sumter precipitated the American Civil War. It seems to me that if things go badly, the Federal courthouse in Portland might become a modern equivalent. I hope and pray I'm wrong.
We're rapidly approaching a situation where men and women of goodwill will be forced to choose a side. No matter how we might wish to be even-handed, to preserve our society, to acknowledge that there's good and bad in everyone and that each side may have at least some truth in its positions, events are overtaking us. Our society is becoming increasingly polarized, to the extent that mutual tolerance is becoming harder and harder to maintain and/or to justify. May God forbid that we harden our hearts even further . . . but I fear that's probably a pipe dream.
Kevin Williamson points out:
In our team-sports era of politics as tribal warfare, we’re expected to be all-in for one side or the other.
. . .
We say that we cherish moderates and independents and prefer them to mindless partisans, but, in reality, we punish them. Why? When it comes to our own preferences, we prefer vehemence to moderation and loyalty to independence. We are all Barry Goldwater now, insisting that moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.
. . .
Thinking for yourself? That’s not independence, but blasphemy.
More at the link.
We're living in the midst of a national flashpoint. All I can say is, prepare as best you can. Stock up on essentials, prepare to defend yourself, your family and your property, and try to stay away from extremists on both sides. If violence erupts, they'll be the instigators. Remember, too, that they'll be fanatical in their insistence that you support them. "If you're not for us, you're against us!" will be their watchword. It'll be better to steer clear of them, rather than be put on the spot and forced to choose. If that comes, all I can say is that you'll have to do the best you can under the circumstances. You might want to consider moving yourself and/or your family to a more peaceful and/or secure area for the short term, while things are at their worst. It'll be inconvenient, sure, but it may be a lot safer than staying put!
I have my own bottom line, of course, as do we all. My faith doesn't mean I have to "roll over and play dead". I won't submit to those who reject what I hold to be true. There are lines I've drawn, and positions I hold, and things and people I will defend, no matter what. Anyone trying to push me too far is going to engender whatever response may be needed to stop them.
I hope and pray it doesn't come to that. Right now, though, I'm not very hopeful.