An Honest Look at Our Loveless Marriage

Red and Blue America Can’t Divorce, But We Can Settle for a More Permanent Separation.


I woke up on the wrong side of history again this morning. Still, my dystopian dream was so vivid this time that it scared me into thinking “outside the ballot box” about a cure for our American family’s deep-seated dysfunction and distrust.


Speaking of which, I first read a Pew Religious Landscape Study, which said Americans’ trust in God was at an all-time low. Okay, so maybe it’s time to stop insulting the Deity with the inscription “In God We Trust” on our currency, cupolas, and walls of Congress. We obviously don’t mean it, and we hardly ever did.


The only words that would have meaning now are the immortal words of America’s most famous Mason. No, not George Washington, Jackie Mason, the comic curmudgeon who began every excruciatingly truthful observation with “Let’s be honest about it.”


We could look down at a coin, see the new inscription and think, “Let’s be honest about it. This quarter isn’t worth a quarter. It’s hardly worth a dime at this point, except that a dime’s only worth a nickel.”


We could stand on the steps of the Supreme Court and look up at the inscription carved in marble —  L E T ’ S   B E   H O N E S T  A B O U T   I T — and think, “This court is not a dispassionate arbiter of the constitutional validity of executive, legislative and judicial actions anymore. It’s nine unelected political operatives masquerading behind black robes and ten-dollar words.”


We could even look at ourselves honestly for a change and admit that there are no “better angels of our nature.” In case you didn’t know, Lincoln just made that up. Human nature is a joke — and a bad one — and no one knew that better than Lincoln. And you don’t have to believe in Adam and Eve to come to the same conclusion.


As for the great enlightened ideal that is America, the cat’s out of the bag, the horse is out of the barn, the toothpaste is out of the tube, the genie’s out of the bottle, and the Ship of State — that noble American experiment that buoyed the hopes of millions of immigrants, and garnered the admiration of de Tocqueville — has sailed.

And failed.


For decades we fancied ourselves a “melting pot.” Then the sixties’ racial strife and the seventies’ racial identity movement separated us into a “salad.”


And now the salad’s been thrown out. The lettuce and tomatoes didn’t want to be in the same bowl together. The vinegar and oil in the political dressing separated too, and no amount of aspirational emulsifying will get them to mix again.


Let’s be honest about it. We’re not just a crazy quilt of 50 different states anymore. We’re a nation of two radically different states of mind — two powerful and equally repellent forces called “red” and “blue,” otherwise known as “them” and “us.”


And they and we can’t seem to agree on anything anymore: issues of race, religion, economics, education, crime, healthcare, sexuality, gender, reproductive rights, child rearing, gun control, climate change, energy policy, voting access, immigration or even American history.

And we don’t intend to.


We will continue to socialize only with those who agree with us, be informed by news and opinion sources that feed us only the stories and statistics that reinforce our points of view, demonize “them” and all that they stand for, and poison our children’s minds against them, every chance we get.


What we won’t do is apologize for the American future we imagine, romanticize America’s past like it’s one of Poe’s underage paramours, or blame this loveless marriage on Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithms or Elon Musk’s audacity.


We will put our big girl pants on, use our inside voices, and continue moving to states, counties, cities, and school districts where indigenous tribes of like-minded people live.


And, because ultimately all happiness is local, over time this will relieve the stress that comes from constantly pinning our hopes for a brighter tomorrow on a gridlocked Washington, D.C., or razor-thin margins in swing states, which only end up causing the next toxic clash.


Birds of a feather have always flocked together. Let’s speed up the already underway migration that the Supreme Court is helping to accelerate.


If we do, all of us, left and right, will enjoy the freedom to live blissfully in whichever America we choose — with marriage partners who respect our values and share our vision.


It’s not a cure for what ails us — there is none — but it is a treatment that can at least give our civilization — as the cancer drug commercials say —  the chance to live longer.


Timothy Philen

Timothy Philen is an opinion writer, award-winning advertising creative director, and author of Harper&Row/Lippincott’s “You CAN Run Away From It!,” a satirical indictment of American pop psychology.

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