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An America Divided Is An America At Risk

Janna Malamud Smith says that our best opportunity to diminish the violence is to carry on the conversation with each other, to donate blood rather than wantonly shed it. Pictured: Tatiana Osorio, of Orlando, squeezes an American-flagged themed stress ball while giving blood at the OneBlood blood center near the mass shooting at a nightclub Monday, June 13, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. Osorio lost three friends in the shooting. (David Goldman/AP)
Janna Malamud Smith says that our best opportunity to diminish the violence is to carry on the conversation with each other, to donate blood rather than wantonly shed it. Pictured: Tatiana Osorio, of Orlando, squeezes an American-flagged themed stress ball while giving blood at the OneBlood blood center near the mass shooting at a nightclub Monday, June 13, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. Osorio lost three friends in the shooting. (David Goldman/AP)

My eyes tear when I learn that the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has appealed to Muslims to donate blood for the Orlando victims. Any tiny act of decency makes me teary these days. Any story of selflessness brings a lump to my throat — any person who speaks with generosity of spirit, love or kindness, or willingness to overcome our internecine violence to work together.

...for the last couple of days since the Pulse massacre, I’ve felt like someone hunkered down in a storm, soaked to the skin, braced against the elements, and shivering in my soul.

Mostly for the last couple of days since the Pulse massacre, I’ve felt like someone hunkered down in a storm, soaked to the skin, braced against the elements, and shivering in my soul. I sense I am caught in something large and terrible, and I don’t know how long it will take to end. Nor do I know what to do to help. Donate to the Orlando Victims fund? Check. Sign a petition to Ban Assault Weapons? Check. Hug my kin and friends close? Check. But none of these actions relieve me or diminishes the pall of helplessness.

I say bravo to the Democrats in Congress who refused to participate in another empty moment of silence and instead walked out when Congressman Paul Ryan clasped his hands in prayer while forbidding any anti-gun legislation to come to the floor.

I say bravo to President Obama for calling Donald Trump out on his "dangerous" mindset. I say thumbs down to Trump’s fear-mongering, and to Newt Gingrich’s calling for a new version of the contemptible House Un-American Activities Committee.

All these polarized approaches ultimately remind me how split we are as a nation. The repeated, cruel killing and maiming of innocent civilians is barbarous. ISIS is barbarous and deeply culpable. But it is our nation divided against itself that makes these horrors feel relentless, numbing and hopeless.

Our morale would be far higher were we more united as a nation. I believe there is plenty of common ground, but it is lost in demagogic noise. I blame the Republican Congress's obstructionism. I blame the rabid NRA. I blame anyone who buys stock in gun companies knowing they will profit after each massacre. I blame the radio shock jocks who traffic in hysteria and misinformation. I blame Donald Trump.

But I understand that our problem is bigger than any of these groups or any individual. It is a perfect storm, and I am wary of my own alienated and escalating polarization. It signals to me that I am part of the reason we are in danger of becoming as hostile to each other as legally split nations: the two Irelands, Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan. Intertwined, yet filled with vitriol – and violence.

...it is our nation divided against itself that makes horrors such as the Orlando massacre feel relentless, numbing and hopeless.

Another horrific attack feels inevitable. Foreign enemies are part of the story. But more than their malice, we are paralyzed by our enmity and by the polarization that sends the vulnerable among us into their thrall.

I remember when we were a nation with two parties that worked together. If we are to bear and hash out our differences without splitting apart, we have to leave our gated places -- gated now in too many ways -- by social class and wealth, by skin color, by religion, by gender, by political persuasion, by inflammatory chat rooms and media that speak only to the like-minded. We have to return to mingling, to talking, to disagreeing with civility, to seeking common ground.

Our best opportunity to diminish the violence is to carry on the conversation with each other, to donate blood rather than wantonly shed it.

Related:

Janna Malamud Smith Cognoscenti contributor
Janna Malamud Smith is a psychotherapist and writer.

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