Democracy is a system in which the preferences of the people are expressed and honored, despite their heated differences. But that’s not all. To really be democracy, there is one more criterion: You’ve got to be committed to the welfare of democracy itself. 

2020. We could have hoped that this year, as in an optometrist’s office, might represent great clarity of view – with both sides working toward a common good. Oh, well. Too bad. It’s never been more polarized, here in the U.S.A. than now, except, perhaps, before the Civil War. The us-against-them mentality has run away with us. In lifestyle and politics, and even in matters of illness and health, a lot of us behave as if we’re at a hockey game. We strongly want our side to win and feel quite justified in using every dirty trick, not stopping to consider what is being badly mangled when we cheat or break the rules, or falsely blame the other side .

I’ve always disliked politics (sometimes politeness, too) mistrusting those behaviors undertaken mostly for the sake of form. But now that we see how it smells when the gloves have come off, it seems like time to simmer down a bit. We teeter on the brink of something dark and dangerous. Civility is not so superficial after all. Perhaps you should consider that there is no safety net.

I’ve lived with people who were clearly nuts – present company excepted. These people did not – could not – limit themselves to moderate, “normal” behaviors. They often colored way outside the lines. And that’s what insanity is, by and large, in the social purview: bizarre, extreme behavior and ideas. (Hey, what’s the Spanish word for Qanon?) Such antics are corrosive and contagious, as a rule. If someone pokes you in the eye – which you’ll agree is impolite – the pain and the surprise produce desire to respond in kind. An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth. Hold my hat. With luck, a few minutes will pass and the rage will subside, allowing a return to sanity. But what results when anger and hostility prevail?

My wife and I were in Croatia several years ago. We went to something called The War Museum and talked to people who’d been through a nasty civil war. Without much glee, they all remarked, on either side, both young and old, on how odd it had felt to try to kill the folks you’d known most of your life: the parents of your friends at school and yes, your friends, themselves. I know this comes as a surprise but firing rifles at your friends does not improve rapport. How weird such situations have to be – both unbelievable and real. May God afflict the purblind dunce who stokes a great divide.

You have to ask, What’s worth it? What is gained (besides the fleeting pleasure of allowing anger out)? It seems quite obvious that nothing is, but civil war is where you end up if you don’t somehow sidestep the two-edged noose of animus and fear. As for the fuming demagogue, no matter which side he is on, ignore the S.O.B. and walk away. Whatever war you start will someday end, and hatred of the other side will not just disappear; it will persist. Those who survive will get to keep the nightmares, scars and gruesome memories. 

“You think PTSD is fun, my friend? Remove your head from colon now! It’s not too late until it is too late.”