Sunday, October 4, 2020

In America, Everyone is Divided

Sad story in the Times, which has been tracking the veterans of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines because of the wave of suicides that followed their 2008 deployment in Afghanistan:

After surviving some of the bloodiest combat in Afghanistan, the men of the 2/7 stayed connected on social media for support at home as they grappled with the fallout of war.

It was a rough transition to civilian life. Many men were disillusioned about why they fought; others struggled with post-traumatic stress. Suicide stalked their ranks. Those close online connections offered something the veterans’ health care system did not: common ground, understanding, friends ready to talk day or night.

But the connections that held strong through all those troubles have been frayed to breaking by the partisan rancor of 2020. The Facebook group the men once relied on for support is now clogged with divisive memes and partisan conspiracy theories, disputes over policing and protests, and, of course, strong views on the president.

The din has driven a growing number of members to log off in dismay. Many say they still want to support their fellow Marines but cannot stand the toxic political traffic. . . .

“It hurts my soul to see all this childish drama,” said Keith Branch, a former infantryman from the battalion. “Brothers that formed bonds in war, I see them becoming broken over childish arguments. I disconnect from it — I’m already dealing with post-traumatic stress. It hurts too much to look at it.”

In 2015, veterans of the battalion’s combat deployments had a suicide rate 14 times the national average, and Mr. Branch, who lives in Texas, helped to set up the rapid response network of volunteers who could race to the scene when a fellow battalion veteran was contemplating suicide. The group made several critical interventions to save lives.

Now, he said, members of the Facebook group are much less willing than before to open up about their feelings amid the partisan hostility, and real discussion about the fallout of combat has grown rare.

“People are saying they are never going to talk to each other again, and calling each other names,” said Mr. Branch, who voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, in 2016 and does not plan to vote this year. “I don’t get it. We went to war to fight extremism. I don’t understand why we can’t find common ground.” 

Another Marine says:

There are many stories of battle buddies that fought together in combat together, and now they won’t talk because of politics. It’s heartbreaking. 
There is my summary of America in 2020. The pandemic is a crisis, but it might have pulled us together in some ways. I have had many little bonding moments talking to near strangers about the weirdness of the times: grocery store clerks, the Home Depot guy who couldn't find the gas pipe fitting I needed, other office types now working from home. But whatever bonding we have gotten out of it has been at least balanced by our need to fight about it, because we feel some need to fight about everything. Not even the famous bonds formed between soldiers who fought together can survive the divisions of America today.

“I don’t understand why we can’t find common ground.”


Mário R. Gonçalves said...

Same everywhere, you know, Europeans can't find common ground or goals to 'fight' for, not even to 'fight' against. The old anti-fascism common ground is in scatters. The syndical union is in scatters. Even the climate change common ground is in scatters.

The pandemic has nothing to do, it has just our miserable state of mind. Except for those who still join in drinking parties unmasked, condemned and pursued by the others; it seem the only fight left is good people aginst good people, some younger, some older, fighting not foe or against ideas, but for or against habits, customs, styles. Unbelievable.

A decade ago, I would not believe this should be the new reality.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

missing "aggravated" our miserable state of mind

David said...

Some leaders make all the difference, for good or ill.

As long as Trump is in the picture, I fear there's going to be very little common ground to be had.

Sure, there are many other factors, deep and important ones. Sure, the divide in our country existed before Trump. Sure, similar divides can be found right now in other countries, as Mario points out.

But Trump himself, by his very nature, his very way of being, makes it so much worse.

G. Verloren said...

“I don’t understand why we can’t find common ground.”

It takes two to tango. When one party is delusional to the point of denying basic reality and singleminded to the point of zealousness, there's almost nothing the other side can possibly say or do to change that.

It's not that "we" can't find common ground. It's that the American right has dug in their heels, shifted towards radical extremism, and picked a hill to die on. Attempts to talk them down off the ledge seem to do nothing, and they don't seem likely to come down of their own volition unless some major traumatic event happens to come along to force the issue.


You can't find common ground with people who believe in "alternative facts", who dismiss any and all criticism as "fake news", and who lie openly and constantly.

You can't find common ground with people who claim that the pandemic is a hoax, or that it will just go away by itself, or that it affects "virtually nobody". You can't find common ground with people who refuse to wear masks, preferring their own petty comforts to protecting the lives of their fellow citizens.

You can't find common ground with people who falsely arrest innocent immigrants who legally applied for asylum at ports at entry (which is the standard and sole means of doing so), and who take those immigrants' children away from them to lock in cages, where they are neglected and abused by black-clad gun-toting jackboots.

You can't find common ground with people who openly court the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, and White Supremacists. You can't find common ground with people who reflexively hate entire subsets of the population, demonize them, and literally want to see them suffer or die, and actively work to make that happen.

You can't find common ground with people who constantly argue in bad faith, constantly betray the very principles they claim to hold, and who have zero interest in anything other than getting their own way, and crushing anyone in their path.

There is no compromising with people who act that way.

There is no 'peace for our time' possible. While we delude ourselves into thinking there somehow is, and go home to get a nice quiet sleep, they continue to work to undermine the foundational principles of our democracy.

They tamper with our elections. They intentionally spread false information. They run the White House like a private business. They make secret deals with hostile foreign powers. They all themselves with violent radical extremists. They have no respect for anyone or anything other than themselves. They victimize innocent people, and then silence the resultant outcry with demands for "civility" and "law and order".

When one side breaks all the rules and does everything within it's power to harm the other side at every turn, there is no common ground to find. It is impossible.

And the sooner we all collectively realize that, the sooner we can do something to fix the problem.

David said...


I'd say your statement is a not-unfair description of the Republicans, or the Right, or Trumpworld, however one wishes to call it, at this time.

In that case, what do you propose be done? I mean this question quite openly and honestly, with no ambushes or critiques.

David said...

I will say I don't think John's approach, which seems to be palliating and misdirecting all conflicts except with the hard left, is going to work. Liberals won't buy it. Seriously, focusing on QAnon's mistaken understanding of the problem of child abuse is like treating the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a flawed study of international cash flows, or saying David Icke raises some important issues, but needs to learn more about reptile physiology.

Sure, for liberals, the hard left--the insurrectionary anarchists, the abolish-the-police fantasists, the don't-know-how-but-we're-gonna-have-a-revolution folks--make bad, dangerous, and fundamentally hostile allies. But I doubt ditching them (much as I would agree with it in principle) is going to mollify Trumpworld. I think their response would be more to see both liberals and leftists, once separated, as fatally weakened and ripe for destruction.

G. Verloren said...


I'd say your statement is a not-unfair description of the Republicans, or the Right, or Trumpworld, however one wishes to call it, at this time.

In that case, what do you propose be done? I mean this question quite openly and honestly, with no ambushes or critiques.

I propose we wait and see what the election brings.

If Trump loses, one of a few things is going to happen.

1) Trump accepts defeat, and the major movers and shakers in the Republican Party who have been in lockstep with him for the past number of years will abandon his cause overnight and claim they were just "going with the flow", "following orders", etc, and that they are ready to pivot back toward a much more bipartisan stance.

2) Trumps accepts defeat, but the bulk of the Republican party can't successfully pivot from the more extreme-right stances they've taken up, and the party is thrown in turmoil. This could lead to them losing influence across the board politically for years to come, and possibly even result in a fracturing of the party - or potentially even the death of it, if things go really badly.

3) Trump refuses to accept defeat, and we're plunged into some uncharted waters and chaos where a constitutional crisis is likely to occur, or, if things go really badly, a coup or civil war. (Presumably failed / short lived, since the military REALLY doesn't seem on board with backing Trump if he made such a mad play.)

If Trump wins? I'm not really prepared to think about that. The last four years will look tame in comparison to what comes next if he beats the odds and managed to win re-election. It will almost certainly get very, very ugly, and despite my belief that the overwhelming majority of Americans will respect the outcome of the election, the likelihood of Trump arrogantly pushing things to a breaking point and a lot of people dying is... more than I want to contemplate.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

Trump-phobia and Covid-phobia are creating a hysterical society and a historical divide. You can't allow that to keep groeing until it explodes. What I think is calm, reason, good sense, good will and cool head are he cocktail medecine, but few are willing to have it. Accepting civil war or caos as the only possibility if our party does not win is tragic. Don't go that way. We had 40 years of dictatorship and survived. If Trump wins, the only possible outcome is acceptation.

szopen said...

Same is happening here in Poland. The backers of the previous government are traumatised by their loss and they can't seem to be commenting under sport section without spewing hate against the right. I used to be shocked by the realisation how much I was hated by some people I didn't even know.

David said...

@szopen: I don't know about the situation in Poland, but in the US, the hatred is quite mutual. Some Trumpistas support him because they depend on him to abolish abortion, some because they think (wrongly) that he will bring industrial and mining jobs back, some because he will lower their taxes or ensure they keep their military-style weapons. But for a very large group, it's all about hating liberals and releasing aggression. And, based on what I've seen, liberals respond in kind as far as the hate is concerned. It'll be interesting to see if they can summon up the same aggression.

@Mario: If Trump wins the election, well, he won, and we'll have for more years of the same hate and division, only worse. (Indeed, if Biden wins, we may also have four more years of the same hate and division; unclear if it would be worse, the same, or mildly better.) The question is if Trump succeeds in keeping the presidency by rejecting a close election that he in fact probably narrowly lost. If Americans accept that, it will be to our eternal shame, and the dream (or myth, depending on how you want to look at it) that America is a special beacon of freedom will be gone forever. Personally, I rather like that myth, and I think it's done some good in the world.

szopen said...

@David here in Poland it alway were groups which were actively hating the others; however in the past I was comfortable thinking the hate is at the fringes. I knew there were people on "my side" hating and loudly offending the leftist as "traitors", "degenerates" and whatnot, and I know on "their side" there were people hating and loudly offending my side as "idiots", "immoral fascist" etc - but those were fringes and I felt I could safely discuss with my leftwing friends. But starting in 2010 I think the fringe is getting larger and larger.

Though the studies here show that it's supporters of the Polish equivalent of "liberal" parties who are more willing to dehumanize opponents, breaking friendships etc.

Nevertheless, it seems it's not just American phenomenon; which means maybe the reasons of this are not caused by AMerican peculiarities

David said...

@szopen: that's interesting about the studies that show liberals are more willing to end friendships, etc. There is certainly a moralistic and even sanctimonious quality to contemporary liberalism, which I to a certain extent share in, for better or worse.

In the US, though, there's also a weird tendency for Trumpworld to think that it's all somehow in good fun. They look at family separation of immigrants or protesting mask mandates with heavy automatic weapons and think of it as the sort of thing a naughty but charming scamp does. I suspect some think the same about winning the election by declaring that mail-in ballots are all invalid. In the US, I think some of the rightist guise of moral "tolerance" of their opponents, their pose of surprise at dropped friendships, etc., may be due to a fundamental lack of seriousness (or, dare one say, a very American political immaturity). This doesn't describe all Trumpistas, of course. I get the impression Bill Barr has no sense of humor whatsoever; and no one in this country is more serious about wielding power than Mitch McConnell.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

Yes, I agree with you on that.
"if Trump succeeds in keeping the presidency by rejecting a close election that he in fact probably narrowly lost".
Well, that can NOT happen. It's totally unbelievable. I don't understand how even the hypothesis is considered.

It's not a dream, nor a myth: America has been indeed a beacon of freedom, and that fact dismantled the largest and strongest system of dictatorships in the world - the Soviet block. That was a victory for US & UK liberal democracies. Trump , like others (Clinton) in US history, is the lowest grade of that; but still if he wins, democracy wins with him. Not if he tries to win by fraud, no, that would be the greatest shame of all.

G. Verloren said...


Oh, spare us.

The US has created and propped up more dictatorships that it has ever dismantled. We gladly promote tyranny and quash freedom as long as the oil and dollars flow.

You go on and on about the long dead Soviet Union, which everyone knows was a deeply flawed system, while hypocritically ignoring the evils done by the governments you hold up as "champions of democracy", which still continue to this day.

You ignore the inconvenient truth that the Soviet Bloc was also a largely democratic system, even if it ultimately ended up heavily centralized and corrupted, particularly in later decades.

You ignore that many of their worst flaws were born directly out of a justified fear that the West would never let them live in peace, and would try to meddle in their affairs, undermine their society and ideology, and ultimately destroy their way of life in order to impose their own capitalists systems to exploit the poor to profit the rich, thus necessitating their being prepared to resist at any moment.

You ignore that the world is not currently ruled by Fascists almost solely because of the unbelievable and massive sacrifices made by the Soviet people. (Or perhaps you simply don't care, give your apparent sympathies...)

szopen said...

"You ignore the inconvenient truth that the Soviet Bloc was also a largely democratic system, even"

You are trolling now, or what? DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM? There was running joke what is a difference between "people's democracy" and "democracy" - the same as between chair and electric chair.

The flaws! The most murderous system of XX century. Torturing activists, murdering them (the last oppositiion activist were "disappearing" still in 1989!). Forcing everyone to live in lies and in poverty; whatever are the flaws of the current system, I am happy my children live now in capitalist country; that they do not have to worry what to say and whom to criticize. That they do not have to be warned that some things said in home should not be repeated in public. "Way of life"! F* that way of life and f* everyone who forced it upon us. Only completely evil and immoral people could support Soviet "way of life".

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

"the world is not currently ruled by Fascists almost solely because of the unbelievable and massive sacrifices made by the Soviet people. "

Someone who writes this is either outwardly mad communist or blind stupid. I belong to the field of West European and North American peoples who made unbelievable and massive sacrifices of their lives to defeat Nazis, which Stalin cumplimented as allies.
I belong to the field of West European and North American peoples who fought and resisted relentlessly a cold war and finally defeated the damned criminal murderer Soviet regime.
Between those two there is no choice. With Trump, you still have a choice, you still have no war, you still have food and health care, money to live and fredom to travel, free press and free arts. You don't like him ? Me neither. But please don't talk of him like he is a Fuhrer or the Fatherland's Father.

ArEn said...

Veloren, I agree with your first post. While I admire my husband's refusal to be part of the problem- his refusal to hate and be angry- I *do* hate, and I am angry. Not at conservatives per se but at those who believe that their "team" must win at all costs and who hold their noses around Trump because they are pleased that he might make them some money or put a conservative on the supreme court.

Yes, I'm *really* angry. And I'm sorry that that makes me part of the problem, truly sorry, but I'm not sure what the alternative is.

David said...


FWIW, I think it's one thing to try not to contribute to the hate and anger, and quite another to talk about a group like QAnon as though they were some sort of child rescue squad who happen to be looking in the wrong building. There's got to be some sort of limit.

Maybe we can start on the road to recovery in this country by agreeing QAnon and insurrectionary anarchism belong in the same FBI inbox.

G. Verloren said...

"Someone who writes this is either outwardly mad communist or blind stupid. I belong to the field of West European and North American peoples who made unbelievable and massive sacrifices of their lives to defeat Nazis, which Stalin cumplimented as allies."

Western Europe sacrificed a pittance compared to the Soviets. Don't even pretend.

France lost 210,000 soldiers.
The United Kingdom lost 383,700 soldiers.
The United States lost 407,300 soldiers.
That's about 1,000,000 deaths between the three most important Western powers.

The Soviets lost anywhere from 8,500,000 to 11,500,000 soldiers by themselves.
The Chinese lost anywhere from 3,000,000 to 3,750,000 soldiers by themselves.

And that's just the soldiers. The civilian deaths to Nazis suffered in the East were staggering. The civilian deaths in Western Europe and North America don't even begin to compare - they're absolutely tiny.

The overwhelming majority of deaths suffered against the Nazis were in Eastern Europe and Asia. Even if you combine all the losses from Western Europe and North America, you still don't come close to beating the losses of the Soviets alone.

The second world war was ONLY won because of the staggering number of casualties the Russians were able to absorb, and their ability to continually tie down the majority of Nazi resources in the East, preventing them being redeployed in the West.

If you think otherwise, you've watched too many Hollywood movies about the D-Day landings and played too much Call of Duty. The world collectively trumpets the United States as if they won the war singlehandedly, when it reality they lost staggeringly little compared to their allies doing the real work of the war.

G. Verloren said...


Quick clarification. I wrote,

"The civilian deaths in Western Europe and North America don't even begin to compare - they're absolutely tiny."

Note, in this assessment I was not including the millions of victims of the Holocaust, who actually do number highly enough to compare to losses elsewhere. One may wish to include to them in comparison, although I felt that deaths from a secret extermination campaign didn't quite belong alongside deaths caused by the conducting of open war.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

History is not numbers, like Covid19 is not numbers. I'm fade up with numbers and statistics. I'm fade up with leftist propaganda. The historical fact is that US and European allies defeated the German nazis, to the ground, and the Soviets did nothing but die uselessly by the millions under the mad command of their dictators-in-charge. It was the soviet leadership that led their citizens and troops to an absurd sacrifice. As they proceeded afterwards, by ruining economy, spreading famine, theft and Gulag, to the genocide of many more.
To say that is Hollywood movies, is re-writing History. Soviet Mosfilms did quite a job there.