Long Division

The final mathematical decision determining the results of the presidential election arrived while I was in the midst of writing this blog. Still, that final tally doesn’t change the thoughts I’ve been sorting through so I’ll continue from where I began.

I’m not sure what day this is, still the first week of November, I’m fairly certain. The spaces between nights and days have blurred as I’ve sat transfixed at all hours before my television, hanging on the words of the numbers wizard whose fingers move rapidly over a map of red, blue and gray as he shovels states into the order which determines who will be the next president of the United States. For all practical purposes, we’ve known since late on election night that the tension-fraught term of Donald Trump is a one-off. He is beaten although his personal pathology and the cult of sycophants around him is drawing out the ultimate conclusion until every last vote cast in this canvas is counted. And even then, they will try to undo the results. The division in this country is so deep and profound that a meticulous accounting of an exhausting contest must be virtually perfect. Yes, the numbers are critical. Almost half of the voters preferred to stick with a toxic presidency. To say that is sobering and disappointing would be a profound understatement. I’ve been thinking of the long division those numbers represent and the daunting task of shrinking that deep divide during the years to come.

“Trump has told people he has no plans to concede even if his path to victory is blocked.” CNN

I suspect that ultimately someone among Trump’s advisors and close circle will convince him that he has indeed lost the election and needs to go away. Under what conditions that may be, I don’t know. More people close to him have contracted Covid19, a truth which they’ve tried to hide from the public. That fact makes the ending of his presidency even more ignominious, considering his miserable response to the pandemic. Although I’m no psychologist, my research along with that of noted professionals, indicates that he suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. He meets the basic characteristics as defined by the Mayo Clinic below:

Mayo ClinicNov 18, 2017 — Overview. Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.

The tragedy of his personal issues is that he’s spun them into a public image that has mesmerized millions, wiped away critical thinking from many of his supporters, and unleashed many of the darker impulses of certain elements of our society. Watching people who recently protested that mandated wearing of a mask was a denial of their individual freedom, turn a scant week later to demanding that counting votes in a general election be halted is mind boggling. Have they read the Constitution? Is there any cohesive thinking process underlying their support of this president? Carrying weapons to vote counting centers and chanting for disenfranchising their fellow citizens is indicative of the deep rift in our culture. Trump has encouraged the ugliest of prejudices and empowered those who desire a reversion to political doctrines which are rejected by the majority of citizens in this country. I’ve observed the successful pressure of his attempts to drag everyone backwards to another time – the civil war which never really ended.

Downstairs Civil War literature bookshelf.

I happen to know a fair amount about that war. I’ve spent a good part of my life studying this mystifying part of American history. My interest was piqued when I was eleven or twelve, during a biography reading frenzy. I discovered Abraham Lincoln and was awed by his abolitionist stance and the Emancipation Proclamation and his desire to preserve the Union. An idealistic kid back then, I’ve since learned that he was a more complicated, pragmatic person than I once thought. My deeper dive into that period of history taught me that there were really two countries vying for dominance back then, one hanging on to an old-fashioned agricultural economic culture based on slavery and cloaked in the language of states’ rights, and the other, a rapidly changing industrial society fueled by immigrant labor. For some, the moral high ground of equality was very real. For others, the belief in the racial superiority of white people over all others was deeply entrenched. And it still is.

I’ve never been able to fully absorb how people who shared an original vision of country could stand across battlefields from each other for four years and blow each other to bits. My naïveté was rooted in the idea that a common belief system was shared by everyone. After all there was the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution. Weren’t those documents embraced by everyone? Apparently not, at least in the same ways. Classism and racism always existed as did sexism. Also religious intolerance. For every baby step away from those central beliefs, rifts that reflected the same ones that drove people across oceans to a land of opportunity became as entrenched as those that made them leave their countries of origin in the first place. As I read my way through the years, I realized that there was a whole different view of the war than the simplistic one I was taught in school. In the south, there was “The Cause.” Battlefields were called one name in some books and another name in others. The two battles of Bull Run in the north were First and Second Manassas in the south. Bloody Antietam in 1862 was Sharpsburg to southerners.

I’ve stood on the fields at Gettysburg and felt the eerie sensation of ghosts beneath my feet. The unimaginable carnage evoked by statues, cannons and the markers designating The Wheatfield, The Peach Orchard and Devil’s Den is overwhelming. Going south into Maryland and Virginia, through Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor and the Wilderness increases the horror of loss and deprivation against the backdrop of a culture built on the backs of enslaved black people. The battlefields of Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi are more of the same inexplicable agony.

My children at Devil’s Den – Gettysburg

The memories, wounds and ideologies from those days passed forward even when the war ended after four long years. Reconstruction was far from reconciliation. Northern army generals were presidents for decades following the war. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a wealthy southern general, was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1920’s, when the Klan was at its peak, 30,000 of its members marched through Washington, D.C. Although its numbers shrunk, it never went away. NAACP lawyers were fighting against it through every decade of the 20th century.

As recently as last year, I toured the battlefields in Tennessee, still, beautiful places where guided paths lead you through ravines and wooded areas where in the quiet you can imagine blood curdling screams rivers of blood. Those places and their consequences are seared into the minds and souls of the people whose ancestors gave everything for their beliefs and who still live near those sites.

There have always been unreconstructed people embittered by the devastation of that war. And unquestionably, AfricanAmericans have struggled forward against abuse and deep-seated hatred, disenfranchisement and violence. Sometimes blatant, sometimes more subtle, these long divisions have never been eradicated. The negative treatment of black people spills onto red people, brown people, any people who are “other.” During the four years of the Trump administration, his tolerant attitude toward these relics of our ugly past has emboldened more outward aggression, violence and hate from those who long to return to what they feel is their inherent right to superiority. This is a dangerous time in this country and has in fact, always been dangerous if you are other. Long division. There are tall mountains to climb to heal what has been constantly brewing for the past 155 years. As a society, we have our work cut out for us. There is the viral pandemic along with the ever-burgeoning pandemic of inequity and intolerance. I’m hoping that a new administration with positive leadership helps us deal with this ancient math problem that divides our culture. Full steam ahead, problem-solvers. My hope for the future.

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