Before the identity of the bomb-sending terrorist was known, he/she/they were in a state similar to that of Schrödinger’s cat. Now that a suspect has been identified, the cat has officially blown up.
Trump detractors will claim the President is to blame for stirring up the kind of extremism that drove Cesar Sayoc to allegedly send fake bombs to Trump’s enemies. His supporters will say this is a deranged man doing things that deranged people do. We’ll see a lot of references to James Hodgkinson, the man who shot Representative Steve Scalise.
As with most things lately, the truth lies in a gray area that makes both sides right and both sides wrong.
President Trump has stoked an anger in his base that has made some of them more extreme than they previously were. As for his leftist foes, they too have played a major role in bringing incivility to the streets of America at a time when law and order should have the advantage.
Where does that put us? The answer is depressing.
Welcome to modern America
This didn’t start with President Trump. It didn’t start with Senator Bernie Sanders. It didn’t start with Antifa or white supremacists. The anger and extreme behavior that permeates American culture started when the country was formed and has manifested itself in outbursts of collective rage ever since.
Our history is pocked with the aggression that manifests as a part of human nature. These manifestations have taken dozens of forms to generate trends in behavior in the populace. It has been mostly positive at times, such as the collective anger combined with national pride that marked the 1980s. The actions that led to us winning the Cold War gave us an enemy in the USSR towards which we could point our anger.
We saw it in WWI and WWII as well, but it was different for the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Anger was internalized. We didn’t have enemies the general population hated. We had politicians keeping us at war that gave the people internal foes to hate and protest.
There are moments of relative calm before every storm throughout history, but modern America is different. Starting with 9/11 and continuing into the outrage of the right during the Obama era, the anger has manifested into a constant dissonance of point and counterpoint, nasty debate after nasty debate, which brought it all to a head in the 2016 election. When Trump won, the anger shifted.
Today’s anger towards Trump is stronger than the anger towards Obama. It isn’t just the shift between right and left. It’s that there hasn’t been a break since 9/11. The visceral fear and dismay have been constant for nearly two decades. Many people, including Cesar Sayok, have reached breaking points.
This is a time when insanity becomes the norm.
As a society, we’re now accustomed to hating one another. This has happened two other times in history. The first was the Civil War. The second was a string of events that included McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, and Vietnam War protests. We’re now in the middle of a similar turbulence. As with the previous two periods of internal strife, it seems like the division may be permanent.
It’s not. We made it through the previous two and came out the other end as a stronger nation. The same can happen now. It may not happen soon. Then again, it could also happen very quickly. Nobody can predict what national or world events can take place that unify us, but we’re not at a point of no return yet. If anything, the events that drive today’s fighting is minuscule compared to the previous two circumstances. Stakes are lower. Civility is higher (though that may be hard to believe in a time when civility seems to be waning).
There’s one major difference between events of today and the events that triggered the Civil War and the turbulence felt in America before and during the Vietnam War. Those situations were focused. The discontent manifested towards individual causes and events for extended periods of time. Today, the outrage is bouncing around so fast that few can even keep up.
Democrats are unified in their hatred for President Trump, but even in that unity there are challenges keeping up with what particular trait or action to hate at any given moment. The same was true for Republican hatred of President Obama.
In other words, the angry people of America aren’t sure where to point their anger at any given moment.
There are no unifying forces today. There’s no Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr to change the conversation back towards healing. It isn’t Trump. It isn’t the Democrats. It isn’t the media. We’re a nation without moral leadership. That should worry us more than anything else about the state of modern America.