The one thing most Americans agree on is how hopelessly divided our nation is today. The different factions feel devalued and ignored by the others. They feel each victory of the “enemy” is a loss for them.
A large portion of our population felt a sense of relief at the peaceful and legal inauguration of our new president. They felt their voices had finally been heard. They felt a heavy weight had been taken off them and that they could breathe again.
A large portion of our population felt fear and apprehension as our new president was sworn in, however. They felt their voices would soon be left unheard. They felt a heavy weight had been placed upon them, making it difficult for them to breathe again.
Calling for unity and healing now is premature. We have not come to grips yet on the current state of our society. We are not yet willing to realize that we have given up on seeking justice but instead now are driven by revenge.
Our current situation reminds me of the tragic heroes in William Shakespeare’s play, “Titus Andronicus” (circa 1588-93). His bloodiest and most violent work, it is a revenge play first performed at the Rose Theatre in London on Jan. 24, 1594. The title character, Titus Andronicus, is a Roman general who is twisted up in a cycle of revenge with Tamora, Queen of the Goths, that results in 14 murders and seven other graphic acts of violence.
When Titus’ brother Marcus Andronicus saw the carnage resulting from the unbridled vengeance, he said to his brother, “O brother, speak with possibilities, and do not break into these deep extremes.” In response, Titus said, “Is not my sorrow deep, having no bottom? Then be my passions bottomless with them.”
Both factions in America have broken into deep extremes. Both factions have seen deep sorrow without end. Both factions feel they must act on their limitless and righteous passions.
This is how a cycle of revenge is born. Before we can even speak of unity, we must refocus from revenge to justice. We cannot just want to defeat the other side but must ask the question: What is best for the nation as a whole?
Marcus also said to Titus: “But yet let reason govern thy lament.” Reason must constrain our desire for revenge against the other side. Reason dictates that we must ask what the other side wants.
One side wants more equity for all oppressed people in America, no matter who they are or where they are from. They want to decrease racial, social, and economic injustice by reforming law enforcement and other agents of authority. They want to hold those in power accountable for their abuses of power.
One side wants a guarantee of individual liberties over the coalition of overly politically correct liberal corporations, media, lawyers, and professors. They want to break the establishment groupthink that devalues the need for law and order. They want to hold those in power accountable for their abuses of power.
People are getting tired of division and revenge politics. But vague calls for unity and healing avoid dealing with underlying issues. It’s way too simplistic to blame all this anger on one politician or another, or even one political party or another. Those entities can stoke the division, but they didn’t create it.
The solution then, really, isn’t just to get rid of one personality or another. It goes far deeper than that. We have to deal with issues of inequity before there can be unity. We have to deal with issues of the infringement of free speech before there can be unity.
When it comes down to it, we haven't put forward the effort it takes to make lasting change. We are trying to jump to unity and healing without the necessary foundation of right action and trust.
Yes, we’ve changed a few sports teams’ names and replaced a few politicians, but we have not yet begun the real work.
Dave Berger of Plymouth, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor who taught for nearly three decades at Inver Hills Community College. He also is a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.