My Friend Susan, Abraham Lincoln, and the Pod People
Every now and then something happens, something you catch on TV or read in a magazine, or hear in a conversation which signals just how disjunctive—how unbridgeable—the division is today between the different groups of people we call “Americans.” That division is growing greater, more irreparable and sharper by the day…and there is not much that can be done to heal it, barring some form of Divine intervention.
Talk of unity around commonly-held principles, indeed a common comprehension of what is actually real and what is not, no longer holds. Talk of “unity” in the America of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is not only useless, it is, in essence, counter-productive and destructive to our understanding of what really has occurred and is occurring in society.
Thirty-five years ago a Ronald Reagan and a Tip O’Neill could differ considerably in their views, but then they could sit down over a beer and communicate using the same language and, significantly, invest it with the same meaning that they both agreed on. Forty years ago most Americans were, arguably, able not only to communicate with but, more importantly, to be understood by other members within society.
That no longer holds.
And it became radically and very personally apparent to me the other day.
I have a very dear friend, an old girlfriend whom I have known since we were small children. For years I considered her home like my home-away-from-home. I would spend a lot of time on weekends there. Her mother was a piano teacher, an old-school Southern Democrat, educated and even elegant in the sense of those “grande dames” that you sometimes read about in romantic Southern novels. Growing up my friend—let us call her Susan—shared most all the same views as I. We grew up when to be a conservative Democrat in North Carolina was not uncommon. True, times were changing, but that didn’t seem to affect us.
We graduated high school together and then went separate ways for college.
While I went away to the University of Virginia, finishing my MA in history there (as a Thomas Jefferson Fellow), and then on to Spain for a PhD, Susan went to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (as did her future husband). Back then it was still possible to get a good education at this state’s premiere university without the contagion of political correctness or Critical Race Theory warping your education.
When I was overseas in Spain, and then in Switzerland and Argentina, I didn’t see as much of Susan as before. But when I finally returned permanently to North Carolina in 1981, we rekindled our friendship as if nothing had ever happened. Every major holiday and for birthdays we would gather to celebrate and remember times past.
This past year I did not talk with Susan much at all. This COVID madness seemed to have curtailed normal social interaction even between the closest of friends. But recently I telephoned her concerning a mutual friend who had entered Hospice. And the conversation turned to politics, the 2020 election, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden.
In a way our conversation stunned me…It probably shouldn’t have…I probably should have anticipated it. But given our past history and our close friendship, it still left me wondering—seriously—if this creaky old American republic could survive, if the extreme and radical differences that now are so ingrown and deep-seated could ever be overcome.
My realization now—my belief—is that they cannot, that there is no practical way to, as it were, “put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.”
Susan asked me what I thought of the January 6 “riot” in Washington. I responded in so many words that fo
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