“Us” versus “Them”, And The Casualty is “We”
How do we get back to we? In its asking, this question isn’t meant to be clever. It’s not intended to obscure some deeper, subliminal, rhetorical meaning nor is it meant to beguile the listener who might hazard some response. Rather, I ask it sincerely—and, at least on some days, desperately—yet always in hope of an answer from any who might profess to know.
How do we, America writ-large, a country and a people incomparably energetic, industrious, daring, liberal, and proud, get back to ourselves? Through what crawling undergrowth must we retrace our steps so that we might rediscover our antiquated unity? In what mountain hamlet will we find our shared fate? To what untrodden paths must we return if community is our aim? Upon what grass-laden trails shall we trek to reach solidarity, long-lost fraternity, and our misplaced sense of patriotic love? Do we even know where this previously distinctive path lies? If not, have we led ourselves so far adrift as to be in need of navigators, or of compasses, or of grand celestial designers who might intercede on our behalf? In unison and with magnanimity, they’ll join in guiding us home. Or, should we prove needless of their help, is the way yet inscribed on our skin and etched atop our bones, guiding us through our veins to every heart by every beat?
I like to think the sentiments of “we” do in fact run that deep. I often picture them animating every American at her core and stirring him in the plunging depths of his soul. My dream, increasingly delusive though it may feel, is that we’ll soon rediscover our forgotten sense of we.
The factions will cease to be so ungenially divided, the rhetoric so vituperative and mean. The fringes will emigrate somewhat closer together, their antipathies further apart. Only then can one hope to see the foreign ideological terrain from which the other comes and lend sympathy her way. Common cause and its ever-vulnerable child, progress, might then be established and sustained. Rational arguments will end where ad hominem attacks begin, and all will be sufficiently wise and temperate to avoid engaging the man rather than his idea. Disputes will remain, as without contention, no progression will there be, but at the very least, they’ll be decorous and thoughtful and nobly considered and even better said.
It’s not a world inhabited by Houyhnhnms that I think would be best. That race of erudite equines written into our fantasies by the now little, now large Mr. Gulliver and his inventor, Jonathan Swift surely wouldn’t do. Scribbled in contrast to the base and all-too anthropomorphic Yahoos for whom Gulliver cared not a whit, the Houyhnhnms were far too philosophical and insensate to be real. They were enlightened, dispassionate, and incredibly reasonable—not unlike a modern totalitarian leader and his state. They even advanced an incipient form of eugenics, barring particular coat colors and genders for one brood.
But we cannot strive toward the level of horses, nor—if given the chance—would they likely deign to become men. The lustrous glow of the mane is far more enticing than the pockmarked skin—the oats more nutritious than the fries. We’re thus restrained by our human foibles, and they by their quiet animal grace. We therefore must seek within ourselves, within our species, within our country a reasonable, an intelligent and a unified we.
Yet this political climate appears wholly inconsistent with the notion of we. The pronoun has become poisoned and those to whom it referred, unreal. Now, the only two words that matter are us and them. This, in essence, is the language of the tribesman. It’s the vernacular of the brute, the tongue of the troglodyte. Is this what we’ve become? Not enviable Americans, whose shared history and current strength the entire world hopes to reproduce in its own image, but atavistic, paint-wearing, chest-thumping, spittle-producing, bile-swallowing, spear-throwing rubes.
That’s not who we’re destined to be. We, so far as I’m still convinced, are far better than that. We won’t be a casualty in this interminably ugly battle of “us” against “them”. We’ll stand atop the rubble and help one another to his feet. We’ll build ourselves from a shared foundation, and we’ll surely get back to we.