Somewhere in the 90s things changed. A new voice was heard broadcasting, more strident, heralding a new era, us vs. them, a nation divided unto itself. At first, it was good for ratings. That seemed to be the primary goal. AM radio had been floundering in the weeds, and this new voice breathed life into the fading medium. Talk radio. Who knew at the time where it would lead us?
“Everything about the left is perception, manipulation, and lies. Everything. Everything is ‘Wag the Dog.’ Everything is a structured deception.” Rush Limbaugh
I grew up in US embassies. My father was a diplomat, and we were assigned to some interesting places: London, Johannesburg, Melbourne. Childhood for the ages. Living abroad like that, on assignments, you learned to represent your nation. I was not always proud of the way our nation looked from a foreign perspective. Racism, war, poverty, these were not the parts of America which provoked national pride, but damn anyone who criticized my nation to me, no matter what I thought. I was overseas, and overseas we all joined in a common defense of the nation no matter what was going on. I could criticize it, sure, but not people from outside the borders. No way. I was at heart proud to be an American. We all were.
“They’ve hit us and we’ve got to hit back hard, and I’m not just talking about the terrorists.” Anne Coulter
At one point I called myself a conservative. I owned a very successful business. I created lots of jobs. I paid a small fortune in taxes and was proud to do that in some ways. It showed I had made it. My tax bill was a symbol of my success. I came from the Bronx, University Avenue. I crawled and worked my way all the way up the ladder. No college degree, just smarts. I was an American. That’s the way we did it.
I wanted a strong economy. I did a large part of my business overseas. In Europe, I was considered an expert, an American; we knew our trade, we had chops. They paid us handsomely for our expertise. And when our clients came to visit us we’d take them to the top of the World Trade Center, Windows On The World. Perfect. We were sitting on top of the world. We had it made.
Sure there were problems, things going on, climate change, a growing gap in incomes, rising prices, but we could handle all that. That’s what Americans did. We were leading the world. And then one morning beautiful, bright day, two jets flew out of the sky and into Manhattan.
New voices raised across our land. Voices of fire. Voices of strife. Of division. Us vs. Them. That became the great theme.
“Christianity has been one of the great salvations on planet Earth. It’s what’s necessary in the Middle East. I think these people need to be forcibly converted to Christianity.” Michael Savage.
I thought 9/11 was a great opportunity. I thought we could use this awfulness to grow, to change, to lead. I waited for the president to make a great speech, one for the ages, a ringing call across the land. We will free ourselves from our old ways. We will have a period of national sacrifice. We will change our oil fixated ways. We will emerge in five years a new America, a stronger America. We would show the world how a nation grabs a national crisis and turns it to advantage. Five years of sacrifice and focus. Ride bicycles to work. Be frugal. Save. Kick Saudi Arabia and the other oil producers in the nuts. America would chart a new path. Independence Day.
Bush made his speech. They called it ‘The Bull Horn’ speech. Except it was not what I expected. I’m over it now. Bush was a guy at a moment, and maybe another would have done better. I don’t know. He did the best he could. Which turned out not to be very good at all.
We didn’t have a period of national sacrifice. We let loose the dogs of war on a nation that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11. Our politicians lied us into war. Americans died for those lies. Civilians died for those lies. But it was the lies themselves that became the problem. They became the cancer. And now the voices of strife gained fuel. The airwaves trembled. The lies themselves became the point. The bigger the lies, the louder the rant, the more ratings went up. The anger led the horde. The anger became the message. The message became the weapon.
And then, inevitably, we began to turn on ourselves. Attack politics went mainstream.
“If someone’s not attacking you that means you’re not doing your job effectively.” Sean Hannity
I have to ask: What is the purpose of all this? Why divide us? Why pretend some of us are Americans and some of us are not? Personally, I’m 4th generation American. I’m not a young man. I’ve built businesses. I’ve worked hard. In the early part of the 21st century, I changed my politics. I felt the word ‘conservative’ had been co-opted by — I don’t know what or who — I just didn’t recognize conservatives anymore. They seemed less conservative to me. More radical. Less sober. Less rational. Emotional. Reactionary. Everything I used to think conservatives weren’t.
I turned the dial to Limbaugh one day and listened. I heard lots of spin, lots of lies, some truth too, I’ll admit, but more than anything I heard division. Purposeful. The goal. No longer about ratings anymore. A darker purpose lay ahead.
“Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when liberals get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.” Steve Bannon
I listened to Trump’s inaugural speech. Honestly, I had no idea what he was talking about. I still travel all the time for business. I fly around the world, Asia, Middle East, Europe. The world Trump describes is not a world I see. It’s not a future I think is there. It’s like he and I are living in parallel universes.
But I know this: You can create a world. You can pull it from your dreams. If you dream of a dark place of anger and division, enemies, wars, greed dominance and a constant test of wills, then that is the world you will have.
But here is another thing I know. Look at history, and you will see a history of failure of ideas built on sand. Truth counts. You can’t just deny facts. Science is real. People desire peace among nations. We are more the same than different, the peoples of the world. We share many of the same dreams. Peace, a family, play, kids, a home.
Hate is a finite fuel. Fires rise in the world, fueled by power hungry people, then they burn out and die. Over and over again. It’s a dangerous story. But it’s an old story, and it always ends the same way for those people. Truth and love always win. Always. You can put your trust in that. It’s not naive. It’s a proven outcome.
Yes, some people have set their course to divide us. Listen to them. Ask them why they do this? It should be the question of our time. Why the hate? Why the division? Where is the common ground? The common ground is where our strength lies.
It’s always been that way. It’s the essence of the American character. Our ability to live together, grow, listen. Our beautiful national diversity. This is not Pakistan. Or even France. It’s the best of those other places. That is what America has always been. It’s a blessing to have been born here.
If the great American people will only keep their temper, on both sides of the line, the troubles will come to an end, and the question which now distracts the country will be settled just as surely as all other difficulties of like character which have originated in this government have been adjusted.” Abraham Lincoln
A president wins an electi0n, but millions and millions of Americans did not vote for them. The president’s duty is to bind us, to lead us as one people. We can disagree among ourselves, we’re Americans, we like to argue, debate, represent, but beyond our borders we must stand united. The United States. That must always be the goal.
At the end of every night we can take stock. Did we do a good job today? Did we remember who we are? What our shared goals are? Did we remember that we all Americans first and foremost, and with that great fortune comes a shared destiny we must all pull together to protect and nourish?
Every morning the president must lead us toward the dream. It’s their job. It’s not easy, but it’s job # 1 for an American president. Anything less from our leaders makes us so much less great as a nation.
The United States. What a beautiful, powerful dream. It is never a certainty though. We’ve learned that at least. But it is still the great challenge before us. The United States.
Let’s turn to those who would unite us as one people. They are there. And they are the leaders we need. Let’s question the voices of division. Be mighty suspicious of their goal. Question their purpose because there’s no greatness in division.
The United States is the nation we want for ourselves and our children and our children’s children. It’s easy enough to divide, but we’ve never turned from the hard road. The United States. That’s the dream. Our common dream. Always.
So ask the radio rant why they are trying to divide us? Question the cable opinion why the separation? The conspiracy, the blog, the comment section, why the name calling, why threats, why war among ourselves? Does a house divided feel stronger?
No single political party represents us all. On the great issues of day we are looking for a common ground. Negotiation and compromise. That is stitched into our founding documents. It built this great nation. A multitude of voices. A national consensus. A United States.