The Culture War threatening to tear the West apart has become guerrilla warfare.
Once confined to demarcated battlefields such as university settings and political houses, in which all of the combatants were recognised soldiers, it is now being fought street fighting door to door, house to house.
And increasingly dining table to dining table, family to family.
The family unit, the great mediating institution of this age, is now being riven apart not only by the politics of the thing, but the deep forces that have shaped those politics, cultural waves that roll on underneath the spume of ballot boxes and electoral college results.
Parents no longer understanding their children’s rage at the system. Children hostile to their parents over their voting patterns. Middle class educated younger generations scorning the poorer, working class.
The incoming President, Joe Biden, (and surely that is now a foregone conclusion) can appeal to a United States rather than a Red States or Blue States, but he is speaking from too high an altitude to do anything about the fighting on the ground.
The true test of bipartisanship is not who you have in the House, but who you can have in your house. It starts there.
And finishes there.
Increasingly we are finding that Americans – and the rest of us following suit in the West – are isolating ourselves from viewpoints that we view as hostile to our own. We are bunkering down whether in reality or online (which is reality now anyway) with those with whom we agree, and delegitimising the humanity of the other side by refusing to look it in the eye. No longer breaking bread, but breaking fellowship.
Who you have over for dinner has become a vexed task. So vexed in fact, that what’s the point in even making friends with those whose politics you view as not merely wrong, but bad; not merely limited in scope, but evil? What will Thanksgiving be like this year across much of the US, one wonders.
Hence this tweet response to a Washington Post article lamenting the ongoing conspiracy theories around the election result (forgetting quite conveniently the same conspiracy theories abounded in the previous one, and will follow it to the next one):
Let that sink in. And sure, the Twitter handle shows that there is something amiss with the owner of the account, but it’s not far off the mark for many. Yet what hope is there in that.
Almost half the country (or almost half of that voted the other way), is described thus. Not different, not inclined to another perspective, but bad. And not just bad, super bad. And super stupid to go with super bad.
And not just half the country in the sense of North versus South, where the dividing line is clear. But half the country that winds serpentine through counties, towns, suburbs and households.
Does everything think that way about those who voted differently to them? Perhaps not. But we’re not going to take the risk of finding out. What is left to you when half the nation are viewed as the enemy? All that is left is another Civil War of course.
But as I said, this time it’s guerrilla. No battle lines drawn in demarcated fields. This is house to house, table to table, with families unsure of whether the conversation will explode into anger and recrimination. Bombs going off around tables. Shotgun comments fired from angry mouths.
Even if they have the will to unite the nation, our political leaders do not have the wherewithal. Partisan politics is here to stay, and it is set to become even more deeply divided, as the political class does not have the tools to fix, and are not located close enough to the source of the problem.
How can a nation be united when there is no longer any common understanding of what it means to be virtuous? What if what I view as virtue is viewed by another as bigoted, retrograde and dangerous. What if what I view as virtue, is viewed by me as foolhardy and uncritically accepting of ideas that will lead to mutual destruction.
Thus it is with progressive and conservative politics as we watch it played out. Sure social media amplifies the hostility, but it’s a perfect reverb loop. When will the noise become so ugly and cacophonous that we yell out “Enough!” with our hands over our ears?
And where is the church going to situate itself in all of this? The household of God? The pillar and buttress of the truth, as we are told.
The signs are there that churches too are being riven by the culture wars. Guerrilla warfare has reached the pews. What will our response be? Perhaps it’s less vociferous in the rest of the West, but as they say, when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, or a virus more deadly perhaps. That’s totally possible.
Yet there is hope, and it will spring from the very households in which the guerrilla warfare is even now being fought. For that is where it has sprung from for me – the house with which I was at war.
This past week I received a letter that was the opposite of that toxic tweet pictured above. A letter that ended an internecine guerrilla warfare within a self-proclaimed house that had drawn me in for thirteen years. A letter that I received during the week of Remembrance Day.
Thirteen years of skirmish, internal, spilling over into external, yet seemingly eternal, until of course it wasn’t and it ended with that letter.
More to the point it ended with the word “forgive”. It ended with the hope that “perhaps we can talk”. It ended. It just did. And in an instant the guns in my head fell silent, hostilities ceased, and the fog of war began to lift from my brain. And I wept.
A tear fell from my face blotching the fountain pen ink of that letter, replete with its airmail envelope and almost quaint “par avion” sticker. War felt over. Was over. A guerrilla war that had run house to house.
The world was again replete with possibilities, of renewal, of perhaps even one day doors of houses being flung open and the hope of breaking bread instead of hearts..