I created this meme from a photo I snapped in the Garden of Gethsemane when my husband and I toured the Holy Land. Feel free to share.
Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and discusses an appropriate Christian response. To read my first excerpt, link HERE. For an overview of the book, link HERE.
Hidden Tribes, a report published by the organization More in Common, says roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population belongs to a group the authors call “the Exhausted Majority.” Although members of this group have many political and ideological differences, according to the report, they share fatigue with the relentless back-and-forth arguments between our nation’s warring factions.
If we feel exhausted by the polarization ripping our society apart, I suspect one reason is the sheer pervasiveness of the Culture Wars.
I realize this divisive bickering has been percolating for decades, but something seems to have changed. At first the polarization centered around a handful of specific hot-button issues – abortion, civil rights, whether the U.S. should involve itself in various wars. In recent years, however, our “Red” or “Blue” identity has become the yardstick against which all choices big or small are measured, even those seemingly irrelevant to the identity in question. Each issue, each choice, no matter how trivial, has become a way of signifying our tribal affiliation. What do we put on our plates – bacon or tofu? What kind of vehicle do we drive – a RAM pickup truck or a Prius? Which cable news network do we watch – FOX or MSNBC?
People from every possible categorical grouping get pitted against each other: young vs. old; male vs. female; people of color vs. white folks; rich vs. poor; LGBTQ+ vs. cis-gendered heterosexual; disabled vs. able-bodied; rural vs. urban; native-born vs. immigrant; socialist vs. capitalist, Democrat vs. Republican, college-educated vs. high school graduate; meat-eater vs. vegetarian; obese vs. skinny; Christian vs. atheist. Besides abortion and civil rights, we fight over guns, the environment, food, clothes, animal rights, health care, education, immigration, economics, trade policy, voting rights, standards of attractiveness, the role of government, how to address poverty, church/state separation, and on and on and on.
When we read online news articles and blog posts, we’ve come to expect the comments sections that follow will overflow with trash-talk of both political stripes: I’m going to say this real slowly so you un-ed-i-cated redneck Repukelicans can understand it. … I can see why you vote Dumbocrat – it’s easier than working. … I can’t even understand what you’re trying to say, it’s so stupid.
Even on my favorite Facebook gardening page, the administrator feels the need to post a set of guidelines reminding readers to be civil. “No foul language, bullying, etc.,” she warns. “Mind your manners, please!!!!!” By way of explanation, she says, “You wouldn’t believe how crazy people are nowadays and unfortunately need to be told these things.”So what could people possibly find to argue about on a gardening page? Oh, that’s right. Should we have neatly manicured lawns or let the dandelions and white clover grow to attract bees? Should our flower beds feature native plants or the latest trendy hybrid blooms? Can we use pesticides and lawn fertilizers or should we let nature take care of itself?
Some of us have tried limiting our time on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to avoid the inevitable insults and name-calling. However, prying ourselves away from our television sets and computer screens doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. The Culture Wars have infiltrated every nook and cranny of our lives, and we can’t seem to escape the bickering, no matter where we go or what we do.
If we live in a so-called “purple swing district” during an election year, the audio/visual pollution of negative political ads won’t be limited to our Facebook news feeds or our favorite TV shows, but will leap at us from billboards and the sides of city buses while we walk down the street. As election day approaches, we can expect to be harassed by at least a dozen campaign robocalls by lunch hour: Would you vote for Candidate X if you knew she has horns and a tail??
Driving home from exercise class, my husband and I pass by politically conservative demonstrators standing outside the Planned Parenthood clinic with their picket signs (God is pro-life) and liberal/progressive protesters gathering outside our Republican Congressional representative’s office (Keep your laws off my body!). As we stroll through the parking lot at the grocery store, we notice several cars with bumper stickers that proclaim the owner’s tribal allegiance: Suck it up! We survived your president. You’ll survive ours. … Turn left at next election. In the doctor’s office waiting room, we encounter people wearing in-your-face t-shirts: I may be DEPLORABLE but at least I’m not LIBERAL. … Trump’s second term: Prison. Some of the bumper stickers, buttons, t-shirts and picket signs seem deliberately provocative: P.E.T.A.: People Eating Tasty Animals. … Doing my best to piss off the Christian Right.
While shopping (earlier and earlier each year, it seems) we’re subject to the “Happy Holidays!” vs. “Merry Christmas!” battle. Trying to lose weight? Welcome to the fat-shaming vs. fat acceptance controversy. Want to relax in front of the TV and watch a football game? First we must get through the national anthem – are those players standing or kneeling for The Star Spangled Banner? And if we stay awake long enough, we have late-night comedy show hosts encouraging us to ridicule anyone who disagrees with us, so we can all go to bed feeling smug, self-righteous and angry.
From morning till night, day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out, the Culture Wars have become the white noise in the background of our daily lives. Drip-drip-drip. Rat-a-tat-tat. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. No wonder we’re exhausted!
One would think the Reds and Blues might declare at least a temporary truce during our current pandemic crisis. We might try to be positive and do our part to support each other through an experience that has been rough on all of us. We might realize that spewing hate will only create more anxiety and fear.
Alas, no such luck. The media simply can’t resist using sensational headlines to grab eyeballs and generate clicks, nor can our elected officials thwart their powerful desire to co-opt the issue for political gain. Our respective tribes cannot stop sparring over whether or how long to shelter at home, the trade-off between rescuing the economy and saving lives, and who should get scarce personal protective equipment and ventilators first. Facebook and Twitter meme wars rage. Blame and finger-pointing abound. Insults and name-calling continue to flourish everywhere.
Common sense would dictate that one should not be able to predict how people will answer medical questions based on our political affiliations. Nevertheless, one can pretty much guess whether we’re Democrats or Republicans by how seriously we take the pandemic and how soon we think restrictions should be lifted so our lives can return to normal. “Red and blue America aren’t experiencing the same pandemic,” laments Caroline Mimbs Nyce, senior associate editor of The Atlantic (link HERE). “The pandemic, and America’s response, is being swallowed up by the country’s culture wars.” Meanwhile, social distancing (or not) has morphed into a political act, “a way to signal which side you’re on.”
Even some Christians have begun quarreling. To go to church or not to go to church? ’Tis the question. Should we prove our faith in God’s protection by packing sanctuaries in spite of the pandemic? Or should we demonstrate love for our neighbors by staying home and “attending” church remotely?
If there was ever a time when we need to take off our political/ideological hats for just a few minutes, eliminate the name-calling, the shouting, the trolling and the flaming, and have a rational discussion about how to help each other through the current crisis, it would be now. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.
Questions for readers: How has our society’s polarization impacted you personally? (If you live outside the U.S., is there similar polarization going on your country?) Which problems do you see going unaddressed while we rip each other apart? What do you think is behind all the divisiveness and how do we turn down the heat? How do Christians avoid becoming part of the problem?
I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on the article itself. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).
While I’m definitely taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously — my husband and I are both considered high risk — I must admit I find it hard to resist a judicious bit of gallows humor in times like these.
Fortunately, my fellow travelers have been generating a wealth of memes to keep me chuckling and groaning while I spend way too much of my newly acquired free time on social media sites.
Here’s a baker’s dozen of my favorites so far, plus a final piece of good advice:
My fellow writers will surely relate to this one:
If we can’t find toilet paper, at least we have plenty of toilet paper memes.
What a guy …
If our pets could speak our language, I’m sure they would have words of wisdom to offer us.
The kind of people I hang out with send me stuff like this all the time:
I know the next one isn’t humor, but I love it and had to include it anyway. If only …
And finally … turns out the recommended amount of time needed to wash one’s hands thoroughly is roughly equivalent to the amount of time needed to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
Nearly every issue has become fodder for political combat in our polarized society, so I was not surprised when the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be no exception. Depending on which side of the Red/Blue divide we’re on, the virus is:
- A source of wildly overblown fearmongering. The coronavirus gets more attention because it’s new, but the flu actually kills more people in the U.S. and is thus more dangerous. We should ignore the hype and go about our business as usual.
- Armageddon. Our lives are about to change drastically. Hospitals will be overwhelmed. Millions of people will die. We must cancel everything immediately in order to prevent imminent worldwide disaster.
As each new day brings constantly revised case numbers and a climbing death toll, culture warriors on the cable news networks have managed to stir a generous dose of character assassination into the mix. The Facebook and Twitter meme wars have begun. Blame and finger-pointing abound.
Some conservatives have accused those in the liberal/progressive camp of actually hoping millions of people die and the stock market crashes so Donald Trump will be defeated in November’s presidential election. Some on the liberal/progressive side have accused folks in the conservative camp of not caring whether Grandma dies as long as the stock market stays up and Trump gets reelected. Good grief. I wish I were making this up.
“Our hyper-polarization is so strong that we don’t even assess a potential health crisis in the same way,” Jennifer McCoy, a Georgia State political science professor who studies polarization, told a Reuters reporter (link HERE). This “impedes our ability to address it.”
For my husband Pete and I, the COVID-19 crisis is intensely personal. That’s because we check the boxes on several of the at-risk categories (age, lung disease, heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, BINGO!). All these risk factors could make the coronavirus extremely dangerous for us. Suffice it to say, we are taking this threat very seriously. Ugh. Prayers appreciated!
Pete was hospitalized at the end of February with a pneumonia-type virus. Upon his release, his medical team told him to stay home until further notice to avoid being exposed to some of the virulent flu strains already going around our community because his immune system is so compromised. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve voluntarily quarantined myself along with him to avoid catching anything that I could then pass to him. And that’s before the COVID-19 saga started.
Some use the argument that “flu kills 50,000 people a year” as a reason for not taking COVID-19 seriously. Influenza does indeed infect hundreds of thousands of people annually, even folks who were responsible enough to get vaccinated. And it kills way too many of them. But the answer is not to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19. The answer is to take all communicable diseases, including influenza, more seriously.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a bad idea to pass along one’s illness to others. In early 2018, Pete and I stopped at a lovely little buffet for lunch on our way to visit cousins in North Carolina. The young woman who waited on us was highly contagious, judging from her constant sniffling, coughing and sneezing. We never arrived in North Carolina, but had to return home when we became ill ourselves. Pete wound up in the hospital.
Pete and I tried not to be judgmental toward the food server we believe gave us the flu that ultimately landed Pete in the hospital. We knew she probably couldn’t afford to stay home from work because of “a few sniffles,” since she most likely didn’t get paid sick days. And she may not have completely understood the risk involved in spreading influenza to an older person like my husband.
But I can’t believe the number of supposedly mature adults who neglect to cover their coughs and sneezes, and who show up in public obviously ill. I’m not even talking about people who go to work sick because they can’t afford to stay home. I’m talking about people who go to church, restaurants, public gatherings and other places where their presence is in no way required. It’s as if people have a hard time understanding why something that is not a problem for them could possibly be a problem for someone else.
And this is part of what makes the current COVID-19 crisis so scary for my husband and I, a reason that has nothing to do with right-wing or left-wing politics.
I’m a fan of encouraging people not to panic, although I’m sure some would quibble with me on what constitutes a “panic response.” For me, a panic response includes things like buying up a store’s entire supply of toilet paper and leaving none for our neighbors. Or avoiding certain people simply because they look like they might be of Chinese ancestry as opposed to maintaining distance from someone because they’re coughing and sneezing all over the place. It is NOT a “panic response” to follow the suggestions of public health experts, including those suggestions that may inconvenience us like staying away from crowds when we’re sick.
The tricky part is figuring out how to separate the progressive vs. conservative political posturing from the information we need to know in order to protect ourselves.The hysteria I’ve noticed so far comes mostly from politicians (of both stripes) and the news media, while the information from the public health people and medical experts has been very helpful in figuring out how to deal with our current situation.
As people in the high-risk group, my husband and I have elected to listen to our doctors and medical experts, not politicians and news media pundits. Here are some very good sites I trust to be reliable sources of unbiased information about COVID-19. The information is provided by trained medical professionals whose only agenda is to help us stay healthy:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Includes up-to-date information on global locations where cases have appeared, symptoms, steps to prevent illness and what to do when sick. Link HERE.
- Mayo Clinic. Includes an overview on symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, along with risk factors, prevention, travel advice and up-to-the-minute news about the outbreak. Link HERE.
- WebMD. More coronavirus news and updates, how to prepare your family for disruptions that might occur, ways to toughen up your immune system and how to separate facts from hype. Link HERE.
The truth about COVID-19, according to these experts? Children and young adults may experience the new virus the same way they experience a common cold or a mild case of flu. On the other hand, elderly people or people of any age with serious underlying chronic health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes face a potentially life-threatening risk if infected.
And yes, COVID-19 does appear to be more serious than the flu, according to these experts. Even if the fatality rate turns out to be closer to 1 percent than the initial 3.4 percent figure cited by the World Health Organization, this is still 10 times deadlier than influenza in a bad year.
Am I worried about COVID-19? I’d be lying big time if I said I wasn’t. My husband and I are trying to keep a lid on our anxiety by following the advice of our health care team and doing what we can to keep ourselves healthy. But given the stakes for us, we’d really love for the political posturing by culture warriors on both sides to stop so we can get down to the business of addressing the crisis in front of us constructively.
If they really want to be responsible, the news media could use the current COVID-19 situation as a powerful “teachable moment.” Here’s a chance to impress on the general population the vital importance of good handwashing hygiene, covering coughs or sneezes properly and staying home when sick – whether we’re talking about COVID-19 or the more garden-variety influenza.
The media can also educate the public on why illnesses that are little more than a nuisance to younger/healthier people can land at-risk people in intensive care or worse. Many otherwise intelligent people still fail to understand this.
If they really want to be responsible, elected officials of both parties could work together on policies like paid sick leave that make it easier for people to stop coming to work sick. They could collaborate in a bipartisan way to improve our health care system so people can get the medical treatment they need to avoid passing their illnesses to others.
If the rest of us want to be responsible, we could all take off our political/ideological hats for just a few minutes, eliminate the name-calling, the shouting, the trolling and the flaming, and have a rational discussion about how to help each other through the current crisis.
This could go a long way toward saving lives in the face of communicable diseases of all kinds.