The distracted states of America


Back in 2004, Barack Obama stood in front of thousands of people and told us that, “We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got gay friends in the red states … We are one people.”  True or not, it was the idea we wanted to believe.

That is why it was shocking for most of us to process what happened on Friday, Aug. 11 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Late Friday night, several hundred torch-bearing people marched on the main quadrangle of the University of Virginia’s grounds, shouting, “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us.” They walked around the Rotunda, the university’s signature building, and to a statue of Thomas Jefferson, where a group of counter-protesters was gathered, and a brawl ensued. The police led away at least one person in handcuffs. Things got worse the next day when a car bearing Ohio license plates plowed into a crowd near the city’s downtown mall, killing a 32-year-old woman. Some 34 others were injured, at least 19 in the car crash, according to a spokeswoman for the University of Virginia Medical Center’.

How did we get here? How did we become this divided? How did we end up with torch-bearing men and women shouting “Jews will not replace us’’ in 2017? How could we have this much hate and anger in the home of the brave and land of the free?

The Washington Post ran in April 2016 a front-page headlined “Political Split Is Pervasive.” It quoted various experts that seem to agree America has never been this divided in our lifetime. We always had our disagreements but now it’s blue states versus red states. It has passed the point when it was just about Democrats and Republicans or when it was just over ideas for what works best for American people; now it’s about us versus them.

How did we get here? How did we become this divided? No matter which side you support, you may feel that the 2016 presidential election brought out the worst in us. In reality, it exposed the brokenness of the system that we are so comfortable with.

We, liberals and conservatives alike, are afraid. We are uncomfortable with the unhinging of our normality. We are coming face to face with the country’s unhealed wounds. The 2016 election resparked the constant and troubling issue of race and racism in our country, which in turn caused a culture of blame and hate. As the adage goes, hate is a bodyguard for grief. Instead of facing the pain beneath the hate, we are trying harder to cover it up. We point fingers, we give labels, and worst of it all, we distance ourselves from each other. We pretend we celebrate diversity, but when it comes to diverse ideas, we shut down. As we don’t let opposition speakers on campuses, we also call the facts we don’t agree with “fake news.’’ We watch TV shows and read newspapers that tell us how ignorant the other side is and reinforce our beliefs.

We are so addicted to being right that we are unwilling to accept that we are all in this together. We come from unique experiences but we all have the same destination. We need to shift from a culture of judgment to a culture of empathy. Social media feeds and news headlines should stop being the center of our humanity. Instead, relationships and the human connection should be our focus.

What happened in Charlottesville should be a wake-up call for us. It’s time to stop pretending and deal with the real problems. We should confront injustice, hate and most importantly we should acknowledge that the two exist. Our country does not need to go back, we need to move forward. Like Rosa Luxemburg once said, those who do not move, do not notice their chains. Politics is not a holy war or a team sport, so we should not let it replace our morality.

Sara Setargew can be reached at

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