Notes from Home: Me vs. Us
By Trudy Wischemann
Victor Davis Hanson, a right-wing historian and former Selma raisin grower, had a column in The Bee recently where he described the country’s current acidic division as a bad case of sour grapes on the part of the liberals, who just can’t seem to grow up and take their turn at not being in power.
Sitting on the left side of the chasm myself, of course I think it’s much more than that. I think it’s what the folks on the other side of the chasm are doing with their power. I think our collectively-left dismay, bordering on despair, comes from watching the progressive quilt we were patching together unravel, even dissolve, under the hands of the deregulatory wrecking ball. It appears regressive to us, a turning backward fueled by the pain of those who lost power when the wheels of justice were required to turn, moving us forward as a country that promises social equality, and needs to become more economically sustainable.
I think there’s another great sadness among many on both sides of the canyon: the devolution of our citizenship into Us and Them. Actually, of course, we have been living with internal divisions for a very long time. We small town rural people have resentments, often unspoken, toward the urban centers for their magnetic power of jobs and baubles that draw away our children and tax dollars. Skin color and ethnic identities have long been used to identify whether we belong to Us or Them, even when we’re neighbors. Efforts by those of us placed in the Them camp to remind the powerful Us that we, too, are Us have often been met with hostility and repression, even death. So we’re actually quite used to the Us-vs.-Them equation, even if we’re not accustomed to feeling this much hatred (read “fear”) for being Blue or Red.
But there’s a greater danger I think we all feel in our guts, whether we can put words to it or not. It’s that somehow the national conversation is constantly being driven into an unhealthier set of categories: Me vs. Us.
It was something our head honcho said in Europe last week that triggered this thought. He said “I have a very great relationship with Angela,” meaning Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, thought to be the most powerful leader currently in Europe. And in that moment I saw the truth of a more general complaint about the current president of the United States. He thinks it’s all about him, not us. Not us, much less them. Him.
And what he’s encouraging, at least among his base, is a similar reversion to the notion that the individual is all that matters. It’s a mythic notion our history writers have maximized—you know, this country was built by brave, industrious, clever, ingenious (whatever) individuals, usually white men—leaving out the wives and children who also plowed the prairie, the phalanxes of slaves who planted and harvested the cotton, the immigrants who slaved in the fields for crusts of bread so that we might drink orange juice (or whatever) any time of the year. You know, those guys. I did this with my own hands, worked 20 hours a day…
The problem this myth creates for the whole concept of community is beyond the scope of this column or even a 6,000-word piece for Vanity Fair. But the biggest problem with “Me vs. Us” is what it does to the individual. The word “us” includes “me,” so when we cut ourselves off from “us,” we’re slicing off part of ourselves. It’s like having two hands, but no thumbs. Sure, you’ve still got 80% of your fingers, but that missing 20% makes all the difference in the world.
I’m not saying it’s simple, but let’s not let ourselves become divided along these lines. We need to work for us, not just me.
Trudy Wischemann is a community researcher who writes. You can send her your “me vs. us” dilemmas c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.