So I’m thinking of a chorus. I’m thinking Palestinian kids and Israeli kids together, led by a prosperous pianist and an unemployed community organizer — of different faiths. They sit beside each other at meals; they take long bus rides to gigs all over the country — heck, all over the world. They sing “The Wind Beneath My Wings” and “Bad Romance” and of course “Imagine”. The place goes nuts. The boys and girls hold hands and take a bow together — except those who for religious reasons can’t touch a woman.
It’s a cry for peace in a strife-torn country. It’s a beacon of unity in a divided nation. It’s probably hopeless, but hope is always an obligation, even when it goes against conventional wisdom. Maybe someday one chorus member will be the Israeli Prime Minister and the other the Palestinian president, and they will meet in a quiet restaurant in Jerusalem, and sing two choruses of “We Are the Champions” and hammer out a two-state solution before the knaffe even reaches the table.
Beautiful, isn’t it? But we know it will never happen because the sides are too far apart, because of the brains distorted after generations of roiling propaganda, because of murders suffered on both sides. It’s sad. These Middle Eastern countries are so clannish.
Actually, I’m talking about the United States. We have a division in our nation that’s as crippling as the Israeli/Palestinian divide. People are dying over there, but it’s not exactly bloodless over here. I give you the Murrah office building in Oklahoma City. Or Ruby Ridge.
And the divide is not just geographical. Most police departments are representative of Red State thinking, even in deep blue states; a public defender’s office in a deep red state would still most likely be filled with Blue State citizens.
We work together, have family gatherings together, but we don’t talk about politics. We just avoid it, because it will only lead the name-calling, rancor and resentment.
In other countries people with different ideas come together in cafes and argue fiercely. We don’t do that. Who needs the aggravation? We just go back to our polling places and start exchanging gunfire — that is, if people even go to polling places. That’s another consequence of the red/blue divide; it’s so simultaneously enraging and ludicrous that people just check out. They feel that it’s been a long time since democracy was about them.
A lot of us on both sides agree that the elites have conspired to distort and corrupt the government. But we can’t agree on which elites. Is it the New York Times and Planned Parenthood? Or is it the Supreme Court and the defense industries? Corporations or gay lawyers? Fundamentalist preachers or pornographers? Or greedy banks — no, wait, everyone hates greedy banks.
So, obviously, the only useful thing to do would be an attempt to make the United States, well, united. The only useful thing to do would be to attempt to start a dialogue. My big brain tells me that, but my small brain is saying: Do I really want to talk to a person who believes that abortion is murder and that gay people are all secular devils? Can I stand five minutes with someone who believes that Muslims should be barred from entering the country?
I can see agreeing with someone about, say, Hillary Clinton’s frightening devotion to the security state and its attempts to destroy privacy, but then I’d have to hear about Hillary’s terrible awful treasonous secret emails. And the other person would have to hear that Edward Snowden is, on balance, a patriot.
So that’s my dilemma. I understand about populist rage; I agree with people who say that conservative and rural people are the victims of class-linked stereotyping. I believe that community and faith have been unfairly dismissed as irrelevant to the political process. But then I say something like “systemic racism,” trying to be agreeable, and now we’re having a fight about whether black people are pushing too hard, and we’re right back to the foxholes.
OK, this is my fantasy. I’m fighting with a straw man. But I’ve seen many straw men come to life and start laying waste to the landscape. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump started out as merely loathsome outliers useful for parody; now they’re the Republican party.
I want to be a nice Palestinian lad singing Kumbaya with a sweet Israeli girl. I want peace to come to this troubled kingdom. Take my hand! And now try to find the hand of a Mike Huckabee supporter. It’s for the good of the children.
I get to the movies early. Heck, I get most places early. That way I’m never late! The logic is unassailable, but some people disagree.
So I have a chance to observe seating patterns. People will always leave open chairs between them and the people on either side, because it’s a known fact that touching the elbow of a stranger can bring about disastrous consequences, from convulsions to pregnancy. We must always be vigilant.
(The same dynamic happens in men’s rest rooms, where an open urinal is always left between peers. Or pee-ers. The next person in the room fills in the space, but no one is happy about it).
More people enter the theater. Only seats at the sides and way down in front remain. And yet, there are many vacant seats left in the good seats. Single patrons fill in the blanks, with the longer-serving audience members grimacing and shuffling. But couples — what do they do? Do they ruefully separate and find seats in the hygiene gaps? Or are they so invested in hand-holding and cheek-nuzzling that they find two seats in the first row and tilt their heads back to view the film looming above them?
But then there are the bold couples, the take-n0-shit probably-from-New-York folks who say, “you know, if you’d just scootch down one, we could sit together.” And then there is much sighing and coat-flinging and mutterings about the rudeness of latecomers, and the elbows of strangers are inevitably touched.
And yet somehow, the magic of movies take over, and a flickering peace descends on the dark room.
Jon Carroll Prose will be taking a vacation with Mrs. Prose, so there won’t be any posts for 10 days or so. Probably the next post will be about wildflowers in Death Valley, because that’s where we’re going. In the meantime, go read Dahlia Lithwick.