It’s hard not to worry about America’s future these days. Warning signs are everywhere. Trust in institutions is at all-time lows. Inflation is out of control. The nation’s long-term finances are in shambles. People are at each other’s throats. Drug overdoses are booming. Suicide is booming. Growing elements on both the left and the right are convinced the political system is broken beyond repair. Disturbing numbers of Americans are willing to resort to political violence. The country is in crisis.
You have to be willfully blind not to notice the signs, yet there has been very little effort to promote national healing. That’s the saddest part. Either nobody cares anymore or people are resigned to the inevitability of an American crash.
America is not perfect; it never has been. But measured by historic standards or comparative world standards, America is an amazing place. Saving it is a worthy cause. Unless more people start taking up that cause quickly, things may slip beyond a breaking point.
Some of the political anger in America is justified. We have a lot of problems. But some is beyond the pale and dangerous. The right is angry about President Joe Biden’s mishandling of the economy, immigration and many other issues. As a conservative, I agree with those concerns. At the same time, it’s important that conservatives step back and consider all the big wins the right has achieved. In the past few days, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed Second Amendment rights and religious liberty. Moreover, for 50 years now, the top policy goal for many conservatives was bringing the heated debate over abortion back to the political realm and out of the hands of unelected judges. That victory was historic. It was only possible through the work of numerous conservatives both from the establishment wing and the populist wing. They all deserve credit. Moreover, polls show conservatives are poised to make historic gains in both houses of Congress and many state houses in the coming midterm elections. The right should be thrilled, yet many are too angry to notice.
Many on the left are even angrier. The reality is the left won in 2020 and probably shouldn’t have. But for COVID-19, Donald Trump was likely cruising to a comfortable reelection. COVID-19 shook things up and brought new election rules in many states that had a huge impact. The result was an extremely close election that put Biden in office. The hard left would never have been able to elect their top choices like Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, but they got their big wish: Trump was removed from office. Instead of celebrating, they are now angry that Biden and the slimmest Democratic congressional majority are not able to pass the most left-wing legislation the country has seen since the New Deal. The fact that nobody voted for that level of left-wing change is lost on this crowd. They are still mad as hell.
More importantly, elements on both sides see their political opponents more as evil than as wrong. That’s the true danger for America. This distinction is best illustrated by comments this week about conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas by two of the left’s biggest stars: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and former first lady Hillary Clinton.
Sotomayor might be the most liberal Supreme Court justice. Yet recently, when speaking about Thomas in front of a liberal activist audience, she said: “I suspect I have probably disagreed with him more than with any other justice, that we have not joined each other’s opinions more than anybody else. … He is a man who cares deeply about the court as an institution, about the people who work there. … I think we share a common understanding about people and kindness toward them. That’s why I can be friends with him and still continue our daily battle over our difference of opinions in cases.”
Hillary Clinton also talked about Thomas recently. Contrast her take with Sotomayor: “I went to law school with him. He’s been a person of grievance for as long as I’ve known him. Resentment, grievance, anger.” To Clinton, Thomas is just an angry Black man. Putting aside the national furor if any conservative used this trope to describe a prominent African American liberal, Clinton’s line of thinking harkens back to her general view of those who disagree with her. In 2016, discussing Trump’s voters, she said: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.”
Sotomayor and Clinton are both on the polar-opposite side of the political spectrum from Thomas. Nobody would accuse either Clinton or Sotomayor of “selling out” or not standing up for what they believe in. But the difference in attitude between the two is the difference between a continually evolving American experiment and potential civil war. Sotomayor acknowledges that someone she disagrees with can be a good person. She befriends him because of it. Clinton sees Thomas as an angry Black man, a “person of resentment and grievance.” Too many Americans share Clinton’s attitude these days, and not enough Sotomayor’s. If that posture does not change, the country is headed for disaster.
Vigorous disagreement is fine. It’s necessary, in fact, when dealing with issues like abortion, literally a life-and-death issue. American political debate in 2022 is no longer defined by vigorous disagreement. It’s defined by demonization and anger and even violence. Once people view their opponents as evil, they will necessarily go to any lengths to stop them. Unless things change, that ugly place is where America is heading.
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