Sunday, August 21, 2005

Across the Great Divide
So this morning the first news story I click on is about a counter-camp of war supporters that's set up in Crawford this weekend. Or, as the AP wrote in its lead sentence, "A patriotic camp with a 'God Bless Our President!' banner sprung up downtown Saturday. . . ." So the war supporters are "patriotic," which, by implication, means that Cindy Sheehan and the anti-war people outside Bush's mansion are not. (Blogger sighs heavily here.)

So you could see this as more evidence that the so-called "liberal media" is actually in the tank for Bush. However, I doubt that AP writer Angela K. Brown chose the adjective with much deliberation--she merely made the kind of automatic, easy choice we tend to make when we're confronted with the stereotypes we've grown up with. Flag-waving president-supporters are "patriotic," because flag-wavers always are, aren't they? My country, right or wrong--right? We are frequently reminded, however, that we're living in different times today. Except the language we use hasn't caught up--and the fact that it hasn't only reinforces the perceptual divide between "real Americans" and those who are something else.

Rose Aguillar is an independent journalist who is traveling in the red states, interviewing average citizens she finds along the way. Her post in which she meets Mary Fowler, a woman whose views on American politics and culture are shaped exclusively by her two primary news sources, the Bible and The 700 Club, will have you gnashing your teeth. Read the first few comments, too, before they devolve into a flame war. One of the commenters came up with a fine description of the perceptual divide:
You and I are like two people, one speaking Finnish and the other speaking Czechoslovakian, over a bad cell phone connection during a lightning storm with jets taking off overhead. There will be no communication. You live in a world of superstition which you accept as fact. I don't. The day I turn to Pat Robertson or any of his ilk to help me "understand" anything will be the day you make burnt offerings to Zeus.
Quote of the Day, no doubt.

I was first pointed to the Mary Fowler post by Digby, who quoted it extensively on Friday, and who posted some further thoughts about it yesterday. He points out that even though Mary's religion and her Republicanism seem intertwined, she's the kind of person who will choose Jesus over Tom DeLay every time. Thus, if she and people like her can be shown that the Republican Party is by no means Christlike, and that its positions do not truly reflect her deepest religious beliefs, she can be pried away into political limbo. Like another couple Rose Aguillar spoke to, Mary can be persuaded to opt out of the political process altogether.

Opting out is the best a liberal can hope for where the Marys of America are concerned, because we'll never get people like her across the divide, which is the central fact of American political and cultural life at the moment. I'm a student of the Civil War, and I'm convinced our current divide is at least as serious and unbridgeable as that which separated the North and the South during the Civil War era--and it may be more serious. Our divide isn't a sectional one--it's being fought house-to-house and block-to-block from coast-to-coast. Example: Digby's got another good post about Dear Abby's advice to the woman who's offended by her neighbor's gay pride flag. More perceptual divide: That flag is either a statement of pride in the finest tradition of American pluralism, or it's an insidious expression of forbidden thought from which innocent children must be spared. One thing's for sure: It's never just a flag. And an adjective, such as "patriotic," is never just an adjective. Everything's contested.

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