This is an Andy Rooney moment for me, but did you ever notice how Americans tend to favor either humongous trophy houses (McMansions), or closet-like tiny houses? Did you ever notice how so many Americans tend to be either very fat or super fit? Crusading evangelicals or militant atheists? Faithful believers in creationism or fervid followers of science? Proud “cave man” carnivores or proselytizing vegans? Coffee fiends or caffeine avoiders? Lushes or teetotalers? Materialists and hoarders or declutterers and minimalists?
The list of opposites, of extremes, goes on. Heck, why not include Obama supporters or Trump followers? Obama is urbane, sophisticated, cerebral, “no drama.” A devoted family man with one very successful marriage. The Donald? Well, let’s just say he’s very different than our sitting president. And I’m not talking skin color.
A good friend of mine once complained about his fellow Americans that he didn’t necessarily mind their extremism. What he did mind was their efforts to convert him to whatever extreme causes they believed in. Rodney King famously asked, Can’t we all just get along? My friend’s cry was more plaintive: Can’t you all just leave me alone?
As Trump crawls closer to power, America risks devolving even more into a society where the byword is “My way or the highway.” Where the national motto is no longer “In God we trust” or the older “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one) but instead “America: love it or leave it.”
I once read a great rejoinder to the “America: love it or leave it” sentiment. I first saw it in a bicycle repair book. The author simply added this coda: “Or change it.”
Extremism in the pursuit of your own selfish definition of “liberty” can indeed be a vice, America. We need to reject a black/white, love/hate, on/off, Manichean view of each other and the world. Moderation as a way of pursuing a more inclusive and compassionate world can indeed be a virtue.
That doesn’t mean one submits supinely to injustice. That doesn’t mean one surrenders meekly to tyrants. What it does mean is a rejection of a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach to life and each other. We have enough polarization already in America, and we certainly have enough death.
Superman used to say he fought for truth, justice, and the American way. There was a sense, a few generations ago, that those words were not laughable. That they meant something. We need to get back to those times.
Impossible, you say? We won’t know unless we try.