Divide and Wither
Yesterday I took all the dirt out of the flowerpot holding my pink flamingo lily and spread it on a splayed plastic garbage bag to dry. I put the plant in a bucket with a little water, to hold it over.
The dirt had become hard packed clay from overwatering. The plant was suffocating. See I’d erroneously put this indoor plant outside a few weeks ago, and in a few days its leaves began browning and curling up like mis-grown toenails. Horrified, I moved it back inside and did the obvious. Drowned it. After all, if you’ve been dehydrated you can’t possibly get enough water.
Turns out, you can. Get too much water, even when dehydrated.
As I waited for the dirt to dry so I could repot the plant, I wondered if I was now drowning it further, by leaving some of its roots sitting in water.
But taking it out of any substance, leaving the roots airborne and exposed, seemed even more vindictive. Despite my lack of a green thumb, even I knew that roots must be imbedded in Something. There must be some sort of mitochondrial exchange created, some sort of tissue bonding with either dirt or water.
Otherwise even a plant, a normally slow-moving life form which dies or thrives over the course of days and weeks rather than hours and minutes, will quickly wither.
Mournfully, this is true for all things. Plants. Human relationships. Even society. If you pull apart the parts and disconnect them from the overall fabric, they die. The art of survival is inherently symbiotic, like it or not.
The truth of divide and conquer as an agent of manipulating political power is more aptly put as divide and wither. Create smaller and smaller pockets of identities, feeling more and more isolated from the whole, and they become more and more dependent upon their isolated ideological ecosystem for sustenance. With increasing desperation, they turn to the only thing that feeds them a sense of belonging, the divisive voice, with its insistence that their way of life will cease if ‘others’ are heard. The mouthpiece then commands them fully, as it is the only voice they hear.
The cult leader conducts with the threat that to listen to anyone else is to lose yourself.
Because their establishment in the larger ecosystem, their place in the whole, which would normally provide a sense of belonging, has been severed, they are susceptible to the Pied Piper.
This is the state of America. The hemorrhaging inflicted by Fox News and Trump has become so profuse that common identity is gone. Every artery of common humanity has been scythed. But rest assured, what has been sown will be reaped.
You cannot gain power through divide and wither and then stop the process.
We’re already seeing the first ominous signs that Fox News and the Drudge Report might come under assault from a new splinter faction of the further right. Having pried the ‘despise everyone left of center’ wedge into the Republican psyche for decades, all the animosity, fervor and rage created by that disconnect from the civic body needs an outlet. For this populace, it is the act of feeling hate that feels good.
Now that the ‘left’ has been demonized to the point of abolishment from their consciousness as respectable fellow citizens, the vitriol needs fresh blood to sustain itself. So, you have the birth of RINO and Oann, mantras and platforms that divide the right wing itself, lest the hate of divisiveness lose its supply.
The high road, the act of integrity, the path of principle, will be avoiding our own impulse to give in to this virus of division, now rampant in our land.
The path forward is not easy. Our roots are exposed, withering, and it can feel as if our only nourishment is the righteous feeling that we have been wronged (as we have been). But like a plant in newly potted soil, we must hold the long view that re-growing connections with our whole, rebuilding the vascular network that feeds and sustains us through the larger ecosystem of the entire civic body, is the only path to survival and flowering.
My pink lily has the right to resent me. I lacked information and attention when I put it outside, a callous lack of care; I repeated the same when I over-watered it in response. Then I suffered it through the trauma of complete removal from its life support system and subsequent ham-handed return to it (how hard do you pack the soil again?). It will endure days and days of losing life force before it reaches back into the soil with its fibers.
But it has no place to put that resentment. It has no warehouse for blame or causality. It knows only what must be done, so it puts all its energy toward that.
We would do well to follow that wisdom. We have been pulled apart by forces larger than ourselves, giant hands whose agendas have torn us from our national sensibility and tossed us into various piles as if we were from different gardens. But we are not. And we will not survive if we behave as if we are.
Oddly, the coronavirus has given us a possible way out, a common cause. The same switch that would lash us could also serve as an olive branch between us, were we to reach for it. A reminder that we can disagree on how to live and still agree on wanting to live.
Sadly, as we have seen, we can expect no such reaching from those who have been too long without the nutrients of the whole. What has withered in them cannot be resurrected of their own will. Nor will they accept our reaching toward them, as their hate sees no fellowship in our being.
By reaching for each other, like never before. By embracing wherever division might attempt to show itself. By ceasing the habit of defining ourselves by what we’re not; by defining ourselves by what we are.
By embracing those left behind by the splintering right. The Romneys and George Conways and Steve Schmidts. Yes, those who used lies and deception to create a myth about ‘liberals’ that allowed them to seize power and inculcate their followers with blindness toward the greater parts of humanity, the strength of nationhood, and the power of acceptance.
These instigators deserve the metaphorical gallows, for their treachery was not that of the mindless masses, it was that of the scheming masterminds. And yet, if we further isolate them as their base turns on them, we only exacerbate the process they began. Instead we might accept their former hubris and hyperbole as a mistake of means, a misguided attempt to further honorable principles with vice and avarice, remembering that no plant grows perfectly straight.
So too, when we on the left play the divisive game, demonizing by turning resumes into litmus tests of good or evil, reducing entire life spans into saint or sinner categorization, we do the work of our political opponents for them. When we cede the ground of commonness, foregoing connection on what we collectively value to focus on our differences, we become our own enemy. The Bernie bros to Biden.
Our cause must not simply be a stand against the monstrosity birthed by the right wing, but a movement with its own design. A movement embracing the best in ourselves, recognizing that what makes us great is the sum of our parts, not our factionalization.
A movement with the humility to admit no one of us has all the answers, so bowing to compromise and sacrifice isn’t failure, it is relief from a faulty expectation.
A movement that sees the “I” or “All” ideological conundrum as a false dichotomy. I do best when All is thriving, as opportunities increase in a flourishing garden, and All does best when I is striving for fulfillment, pushing boundaries and thereby expanding the garden.
A movement that begins with the question ‘what ground do we share in common’, rather than ‘where do you stand in relation to my stand.’
A movement that takes pride in housing disparate people under one roof. That doesn’t demand identity solidarity, but instead finds the space beyond identity, the human space. A place where I don’t hold your biological appointments and their attendant historical associations against you. Where the past is not your responsibility, what you do now is. Where your body doesn’t define you, your actions do.
A movement that takes place in the halls of city councils and school boards and share-holder meetings and in coffee shop lines, not just at the voting booth. Spreading not only in our politics, but more deeply in our civic behavior itself. A tide motivated beyond outcome, a swell of how we do things, not just why.
A movement as an antidote to the divide and conquer serum a few well-placed influence brokers have so successfully deployed.
The movement: Unify to Empower. Yourself. Ourselves. Oneself.
The power we lack will not arrive through hate and division. It will arrive through unity. To unify we connect. Extending our roots knowing that nourishment must come from outside of ourselves. A plant does not use its roots to find more of itself, to connect with other roots, it connects to the dirt and air and soil, it grows from its relationship to ‘others’.
It is time to put our flowers back in the pot. It is time to make America something she has never been, whole.