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Divided America: Grieving Through Anger

Dealing with anger and grief through bridge-building.

Public Domain, Munch
Source: Public Domain, Munch

Politics has changed.

It used to be that the two major political parties were focused on their traditional agendas. Democrats promoted civil rights issues, equality, and strengthening the safety net for the general populace. Republicans emphasized the value of small government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, and limited immigration.

Both sides used to fight for all the things they were for.

But then along the way, things changed.

Now each party is devoting their energy to fighting for what they are against, which turns out to be the opposite party.

Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, has recently commented that, “In a deeply divided nation, Democrats and Republicans don’t just disagree, they hate each other.”

Jones cites statistics showing that nearly 80% of Democrats think the Republican Party has been taken over by racists. Jones' data further shows that 82% of Republicans believe that the Democratic Party is controlled by socialists.

So, with the extremity of these world views, we don’t just have two different political parties, we have two different Americas.

Members of each party believe there are things they have a right to expect as Americans. But they feel that members of the opposite party are systematically taking those things away.

Republicans, who tend to be older, white evangelicals, feel crowded out by African Americans, Latinos, and women, who represent social changes and models that they feel uncomfortable with.

Democrats, who tend to be younger, and include the great majority of African Americans, Latinos, and immigrants, feel unwelcome and actively devalued by Republicans. For African Americans and indeed for many white Democrats, the Republican failure to condemn white nationalism resonates uncomfortably with the country’s earlier history of slavery and segregation.

We now have two political parties that feel denigrated and excluded by the opposite party.

They each feel loss and are grieving.

The powerful anger that members of each party feel is the way that they grieve. Anger and grief are closely allied, especially for males. One of the classic ways that young men grieve is by getting into fights.

So we have a country where each of the major political parties feels loss, anger, and grief.

What can we do?

Here are some thoughts to consider for the next part of the journey:

  • First acknowledge your sense of loss and grief, and acknowledge it without reflexively blaming “the other side” for the loss. Just acknowledge the feeling of loss.
  • Recognize too that all life has loss woven inextricably into its DNA. Realize too that not all loss is the deprivation that it initially seems to be.
  • A very close friend of mine died recently of cancer. He told me shortly before he died that he felt cancer was the best thing that ever happened to him. Because it forced him to re-think and re-calibrate his life and values.
  • Another source of loss for many people comes from aging. But here too there can be surprises and mysteries. Sometimes a person’s best work comes in her 70s or 80s. The work of this late season is often very different from the work done in a person’s 20s, but can sometimes be the deepest and wisest of an entire lifetime.
  • Consider too that for a caterpillar, entombment, and liquification in a chrysalis may seem to seal its final doom. Little does that caterpillar realize that it will soon pirouette through the air as a butterfly, unburdened by its 24 lumbering legs.
  • Consider also that life can sometimes be like a Moebius band, where the end is circling around toward the beginning.
  • One of the most divisive forces in our country today is political television: primarily MSNBC and Fox News. They are stridently partisan and increase our sense of division and anger. Avoid watching them at all costs!
  • For a democracy to function optimally, we need an informed citizenry. Two good sources of balanced, unbiased news are PBS Evening News, and U.S. News & World Report.
  • If you are an Evangelical, examine your faith and politics in the light of the second half of The Great Commandment, (Mark 12:31): “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And bear in mind that when Jesus was asked to define “neighbor,” he told a story where the hero (the neighbor) was someone those in his audience considered to be an enemy (a Samaritan)!
  • Learn how to listen respectfully to people who may be very different from you. Reach out. Accept the fact that just because people disagree with you doesn’t mean they’re bad people.
  • Practice humility. Don’t always insist that people agree with you or accept you.
  • Commit to the truth, wherever it leads.

So, these are a few things we can do to begin addressing the great division in our country and the anger and grief it creates.

David Evans ©2020.