Tuesday afternoons, we would drive to marriage counseling in separate cars. We did this, we said, because it would save time if we met there straight from work. This sounded sensible. It was also a lie. We took separate cars because we were both so angry we could not fathom being trapped with each other in a car. What if he suddenly wanted to talk or yell? What if I wanted to talk and he didn’t want to listen? Worst, what if, on the drive home from therapy, one of us wanted to discuss … the therapy?
I was 26. He was 34. We would be divorced within the year. How fast it can all fall so irreparably apart.
This is how America looks to me now, post-election. Irreparably torn apart. We Democrats and Republicans had our big, final meetup on November third — Cast your vote! Make your voice heard! — and yet it seems everyone, no matter who they voted for, remains steeped in anger and resentment.
In George Packer’s 2013 National Book Award winner The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, he writes of how Newt Gingrich transformed American politics. Gingrich “saw that the voters no longer felt much connection to the local parties or national institutions. They got their politics on TV, and they were not persuaded by policy descriptions or rational arguments. They responded to symbols and emotions …. Donors were more likely to send money if they could be frightened or angered, if the issues were framed as simple choices between good and evil.”
Add Facebook as an accelerant, and here we are. Like Trump himself, the Trump voter refuses to accept the election results; he will not be trapped in a Biden car where evil liberals kill healthy newborns and want to hand out free healthcare. And no Biden voter would be caught dead in a car flying a giant Trump flag with people who pack by the thousands into rallies, unmasked, screaming “Lock her up!” and “Fake news!”
So where exactly does this leave us as one America, trying to make agreed-upon, rational decisions during a deadly pandemic?
A friend calls to tell me about a recent Texas wedding she declined to attend. “They invited 250,” she says, the max the venue can hold, and when I gasp she adds, “but right off 75 sent their regrets, and two weeks out another 50 cancelled because of the virus.”
“So they still had 125 people,” I say, sounding as accusatory as I feel. “At a wedding. With multiple grandparents. In Texas, where cases and deaths are spiking.”
“After the wedding,” my friend says, “they posted pictures on Facebook. I looked real close and did not see a single mask.”
She then tells me about her aunt and uncle, both vocal Trump supporters. The aunt continues to believe the virus is a hoax, even after the uncle (her husband) died of the virus in this summer. The aunt now claims you simply need to drink a lot of lemonade and put lemon juice on everything. It’s all about the lemons! She saw it on Facebook somewhere.
Here in my little town, a woman sends me a photograph of a house shortly after Biden was declared the winner. They were flying an upside-down American flag and a Trump flag together. She is so angry, she says.
Just what Mr. Gingrich would want.
What Gingrich had started in the 1980s paid off. By “the millennium the two sides were dug deep in opposing trenches,” Packer writes, “the positions forever fixed, bodies piling up in the mud, last year’s corpses this year’s bone, a war whose causes no one could quite explain, with no end in sight: l’enfer de Washington. Perhaps he had wanted it this way all along. Politics without war could be rather boring.”
On January 20, Joe Biden (the supposed “boring” candidate) will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. In a Nov. 17 interview with CNN, Dr. Fauci tried for common sense across party lines. “You can continue to do activities which are good for the economy, but still adhering to the public health measures that we’re talking about. I just can’t understand why there’s pushback against that. They’re not that difficult to do. And they save lives. They save lives.”
Wait. What about lemons? Could somebody ask Dr. Fauci about the lemons?
The main thing I learned in marriage counseling is this: For it to work, you both have to want to be there, to listen, and to come to some fundamental agreements. You have to be willing to ride home in the same car together.
Are you willing? Am I? Because if not, how very fast this will all fall apart.