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A nation divided by the stories we believe

How could so many people vote for President Trump? He’s so bad. It’s infuriating! The explanation must be that Trump supporters are getting different news than I am. Not only that, the news they are getting is false.

But wait a minute. Haven’t I also received false news? As a white child, I was taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. I don’t think this is how Native American’s tell that story. As a white child I heard the joke about George Washington being “the father of our country” – wink, wink – condoning that he fathered children among his black slaves. I don’t think black people spread this joke with a wink.

As a Democrat I can point my finger at Republicans for voting based on false news, yet I have received and believed lots and lots of false news in my lifetime. We are all guilty of believing what we want to justify our moral supremacy.

I suppose this is how it’s always been; different people holding different versions of what’s true. And then all of a sudden, as if by surprise, we wake up and realize that not everyone in the country sees things the same. We become instantly angry. We accuse each other of believing false news. We are all forced to question what we thought was true.

For me, my country doesn’t seem to be the one that I thought I was living in. Based on, you know, what I’ve heard, I have always thought of my country as a place that welcomes and respects immigrants. Not true. I have always thought of my country as a place of equal opportunity. Not true. I have always thought of my country as a place where the government protects the people from bad corporations and bad people. Not true.

Actually, none of these things about my country have ever been true. I have carried false stories for years. I didn’t realize that racism, classism, sexism, and other isms were so alive in my country. I’m figuring out that these divides aren’t new; they’ve just been glossed over in the stories that I have been fed.

The street-level stories that would otherwise demonstrate our true divisions haven’t been showing up in my news feed. I haven’t been getting the complete picture. My parents’ TV news and my grandparents’ daily papers also committed crimes of omission. Those news feeds highlighted stories that appealed to my parents and grandparents, news that reinforced what they wanted to believe. Mainstream history books and text books have also hidden the truth of our nation’s divisions and have exalted false myths for generations.

As a white American of European descent, mainstream news has worked well for me and for people like me before me. But the glorified narratives about America being open to immigrants or about America as the land of opportunity simply aren’t working for a lot of people right now. For many Americans these myths just aren’t true. These myths are being exposed before our very eyes.

Today myths and false news are being spread, and targeted, like never before. Without election results in front of me, it’s easy to believe that my view is correct. No matter what you believe you can find “news” on the internet to support your belief. That’s what I do. It’s infuriating that the election results don’t support what I want to believe!

My country is divided. I can’t help that. We were born that way. Two books by Maine’s own Colin Woodard’s – “American Nations” and “American Character” – explain these divisions very well. Being divided is part of our fabric. It’s in our blood. The different modern-day tribes of America are telling and believing very different stories. Just like we always have. So why am I so surprised that the election shows us so split? Again!

I don’t know the best path forward. But I’m pretty sure it’s about accepting that we’re a divided country. And I’m pretty sure it’s not about hating each other for believing different stories. Different stories is who we are.



9 thoughts on “A nation divided by the stories we believe

  1. Hi Shep,
    Always love your comments and your encouragement.
    I love how you name your own messy criticism of others and how you prioritize your own convenience. Yup. Me too!
    Thanks for naming these things. It helps me see and admit these things in myself.

  2. Very courageous self disclosure, Craig, as usual! Thank you.

    I too am using this outer polarization to look more deeply at my mind and the stories i tell myself — using the lens of independent individualism vs planetary interdependence. Sure enough, I’m noticing that my daily thoughts and acts are mostly about “me first”, only considering their impact on others and the planet secondarily, if at all. (Didn’t think twice about driving the half mile to a neighbors house, cause it was more convenient for me, not the planet.) And I even see how every time I disagree with other’s choices without finding out why, I’m asserting my reality over theirs. ( I cringed at my partners choice of food last night but never asked her about that. Just the way i cringe at my neighbors Trump No More Bullshit pennant, but haven’t figured out how to open a conversation with them.) So like you, I’m using this outer “mess” to see just how closely it reflects my inner messy “me first” thinking and acting (or not acting). After i clean that up a bit, maybe I’ll have something of value to offer, other than more messy criticism of others and prioritizing my convenience. This is a work in progress (the rest of my life!) and thanks for inspiring me (and hopefully others) to do this difficult messy work.

    A merely fallen enemy may rise again, but the reconciled one is truly vanquished. -Friedrich Schiller, poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright (10 Nov 1759-1805)

  4. “Different stories is who we are.” I agree. But when those stories threaten our democracy, the integrity of our U.S. Constitution, and/or our national security, the people spreading such stories are betraying their fellow Americans and their country and are traitors by definition.

  5. Wonderful, courageous piece, Craig! I wonder if you’ve read anything about “Conquest Activism”? You’ll find it as a chapter in Sherri Mitchell’s book: Sacred Instructions: indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-based Change. I can’t recommend it, or the book in its entirety enough.

    Great work, you!

  6. Dear Awesome Craig,
    Problems are caused by individuals and their choices. People who make good choices have good lives because they choose positive goals. When they hit conflict or challenges, they make positive adjustments. They don’t grind on the things they lost. They forgive themselves and others and move on. They compromise, try new things, and seek to please others. They make a choice not to make the focus of their life about conflict and misery.

    Holding grudges, nursing old wounds one has never attempted to resolve, and trying to control people who may not agree with your choices are all negative reactions that don’t lead to positive outcomes. Many people choose bad goals, thinking in a childish way that consequences won’t come down on them. Ask any psychologist. Nobody ever escapes consequences for bad choices. When you have a whole neighborhood or city making the same foolish rationalizations, things break down rather quickly. The poison of Critical Race Theory in our nation is almost complete. If you are forced to assume someone is your enemy at all times, then you WILL BE enemies. But this is NOT the paradigm of our nation’s founding.

    There is nothing in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution that encourages any of those “isms”. The Founding Fathers were especially careful to leave freedom for blacks/people of color as an unspoken hope for the future by NOT mentioning skin color in any of our law. They understood that it was a change of heart and social values that had to happen, and no law could do that. The vulnerable country needed to be unified against European control (ie. BRITISH-ENFORCED SLAVERY IN THE COLONIES against the will of many land holders) BEFORE it could deal with the evil of slavery. And they were right.

    They understood that individuals will always make bad choices, generation to generation, and that each generation has to work to make — not a PERFECT union but — a MORE perfect union that it was before we were each born. This is the source of our UNITY AS AMERICANS. We ALL agree that we should be able to live, move around on the land, and seek our happiness in the work and company of people we like and enjoy. We all need to root out crime, and reward goodness in each generation, as new sins and new joys come into view. Rally around that.

    It was Camala Harris’s personal choice to prosecute black men for petty offenses that put so many in jail for long sentences. But the law itself doesn’t say “put pot smokers in jail for years, especially black ones”. Equality under the law can easily be perverted by District Attorneys and judges locally, and on up the chain.

    There ARE people in power with their own personal prejudices and lustful desires for power/sex/money that use their position in racist/sexist/corrupt ways. This is what a Justice System is created to correct. But the system is run by broken failing humans.

    We are all very clearly NOT perfect. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. When we lump people into broad categories, we fail to deal with individual acts of crime. Under our Constitution, we have the right to accuse, produce evidence, prosecute and convict a GUILTY person of their crime. But sadly, no party is pursuing the punishment of individual criminal activity in regards to corruption at the local and state level, where virtually ALL our national problems begin. Corruption in Maine enables national corruption. Essentially, all problems are local, and it is locally that we can best keep our nation safe.

    A key to this problem is the deliberate neglect of Constitutional priorities. No person is supposed to hold a title of nobility (unquestioned rightness) in this nation. We are all equal before the law. No special privileges due to parentage or wealth. But judges have, in the dark of night, created judicial policy, without public input, that prohibits prosecution of law enforcement and judicial branch employees in the line of their duties. Your local and state employees are also largely insulated from accountability by a process called bonding, and the simple unwillingness of the bureaucracy to have any critical review of their ranks.

    This means abusive police are very hard to remove, and corrupt judges are in control of their own destiny (and yours, too)! And the mass of unelected office workers making better than private sector pay/benefits/pensions are going to cover their behinds to keep the govt mafia together and in power over us. Right now, the only power we have as Americans against a corrupted judiciary is the power to complain openly in the press when a judge is corrupt. We can embarrass our judiciary into removing a bad egg, with a lot of effort. But the people who have the money to take that fight on? They don’t. The resulting lawsuits would bankrupt them. What’s the fix? Elect and hire people of good character. Not just good educational background.

    The Bible says that we should stand up for the weak, the oppressed, the widows and the orphans. Stand up for the little guy/girl, as well as yourself. Not with government programs but with our own personal time and money. I’m pretty sure, since God loves most to deal with individuals uniquely and personally, that this doesn’t mean just expressing disgust at the system publicly. This means actively finding innocent and powerless people downtrodden by the system, and giving them the time and money it takes to clear their name and get justice in their situation. And it means good people need to pursue education in the justice arts, get hired and elected to these jobs, and keep their integrity in the process. “No greater love is there than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend.” That doesn’t necessarily mean dying physically. It may mean investing one’s life in care of others instead of self. The law system should be seen as a system based on caring just as the medical system is viewed. Will people work to make this a “more perfect” system than it has come to be?

  7. Right now covid19 is surging in America as never before. If the ACA is struck down by the Supreme Court, states that have not expanded Medicaid (FL, WI, TN, NC, GA and many others) will see incredible excess deaths and spread of Covid19 that could cripple their whole health care apparatus. Reach out to legislators in those states right now.

  8. I appreciate your point of view, Craig. I read somewhere back that what we have now can be described in part as an “epistemic crisis”. I naturally think of it as those of us in the reality-based community facing an upsurge of cultists threatening the unravelling of our democracy, destruction of the environment, etc. You note that we have all operated on shared falsehoods; while I pine for the American Civic Religion of yore, it was always in dynamite shape for a reformation.

    I’d add that Colin Woodard’s book, Union, is also an important read, as is Heather Cox Richardson’s How the South Won the Civil War. Such historians we have coming out of Maine!


  9. Morning Craig.
    Hope you’re well. I would very much enjoy getting together sometime soon. I am very open to travelling to your area.

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