Looking for solutions to our current divisions

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Not that anyone cares about what I think, but I imagine there may be some readers of these pages who are wondering what I or other “Trump supporters” are saying now that his antics have caused one of the most horrendous violations of proper political discourse in our history.

My first impulse is to feel ashamed for supporting and defending Trump these several years. Not that he was my preferred candidate to begin with or that I overlooked his many unsavory qualities and foolish antics while in office. (Something liberals don’t tend to understand is that many on the Right spend almost as much time criticizing Trump as they do praising his accomplishments.)

However, I didn’t think he would truly fulfill many of the worst characterizations of his personality and tendencies. But he did. There is an important difference between actually calling on people to perpetrate violence and telling a crowd to make themselves heard. Trump did the latter, but should have known that his fiery rhetoric combined with the raw emotions of the moment would not end well. He also failed to step in immediately to strongly condemn the violence and stop the invasion of the capitol.

So now we have a real poop sandwich of a situation to deal with. Trump could have conceded, sworn to investigate the results and improve election integrity, and gone off into the sunset relatively unscathed. There was plenty to criticize about this administration, but on several key points, he did quite well and his message of resisting the twin forces of government and corporate overreach was a welcome one to people on both sides of the political spectrum. If he had done this, I believe that Republicans would have won at least one if not both Georgia Senate seats.

But he couldn’t help himself and allowed the darker forces of his own personality and paranoid voices of hyper-cynical sycophants to push him to the edge of madness, if not slightly over.

Our society is being torn apart right now, in a way I haven’t seen in my 50 brief years and probably not since the years preceding the Civil War. The 1960s were quite tumultuous, to be sure, but the divisions were not as deep-seated and broadly felt as they are now. I’m reading a book about the art in the post-Reformation Europe of the late 1500s and early 1600s and there are some very interesting parallels.

When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450, the rise of printed literature began and a plethora of books, tracts, pamphlets, and other forms of written communication exploded onto the scene in Europe. By the early 1500s, there was great debate about many important topics, including religion, and this culminated with Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses of 1517 (supposedly nailed to the door of a church, but actually probably not). Luther questioned pretty much all of Catholic dogma and set in motion the divisive debates and movements that dominated European society for the next 100 years, resulting in the infamous “Wars of Religion,” mob riots, revolutions, executions of religious dissenters (both Catholic and Protestant), and general chaos.

While the timeline was much longer than what we’ve seen in the past 10 years with the advent of social media, which is to be expected given the slower development and dissemination of the printed word 500 years ago, the basic dynamics were very similar. Greater ability to express one’s opinion led to disagreement, then division, then violent conflict. We’ve seen some pretty horrific violence in the past 6 months. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the hypocrisy of those on the Left who dismissed the riots of last summer, including the violent attacks on police and government buildings, as just so much understandable frustration given the fundamental horribleness of our society. How those same people who are so aghast at this instance of mob violence could ignore the violence of last summer, I’ll never really understand.

But I digress. The point is: what did people do 500 years ago to stop the division and conflict?

As far as I can tell there were two main solutions: tolerance and beauty.

Some governments, like that of the Netherlands, thought that the best solution for all the division was to jettison the traditional approach of having a state-sponsored religion, a tradition which was fully embraced by both Protestants and Catholics, and to decree that all faiths (to an extent) were welcome as long as extreme proselytization was avoided. In other words, instead of fighting out who was right about this or that point of doctrine, the best course was to “live and let live.” After all, we all wanted the same thing—personal happiness and eternal bliss—so why not let everyone figure out their own path to such goals as long as doing so didn’t interfere with another’s right to do so?

I’m not sure if we can do that these days, but it’s worth a try to re-iterate that most basic and truthful concept of tolerance, and to let people disagree on some important truths while focusing on those—perhaps very few—things we can all agree on.

But the other solution was more interesting in some ways, if a quite a bit harder to actually execute nowadays. But here goes. One way to counter the confusion caused by the religious controversies and widespread dismissal of various aspects of Christian belief that had been around for 1500 years was to double-down on explaining those beliefs better so that those who tended to prefer the old ways would understand why doing so was a good idea.

So, the Catholic Church began to employ some of the greatest minds of its history, men like Robert Bellarmine and Ignatius Loyola, to better explicate the teachings of the Catholic Church. This, however, was a method that was inherently limited because it relied on people being literate and having the time and money to attend schools or universities. This was not going to work for the masses, so the Church also employed painters and sculptors to present the truths with the beauty of artistic expression. Artists such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio and the female painter Artemisia Gentileschi went on to create some of the most beautiful religious paintings of all time and their efforts were quite successful in communicating important truths through beauty. This, in turn, led to some stabilization of the situation in Europe, though the divisions between Protestants and Catholics remain to this day.

Can we employ tolerance and beauty for the sake of truth in our time to bridge our various gaps? Is this even possible at a time when the Left is increasingly intolerant, and when the concept of artistic beauty has been all but eliminated from our modern culture? I think it is possible, if unlikely. But it would be interesting to see what happened if we as individuals strove to be more tolerant, more appreciative of the beauty found in various aspects of life, whether man-made or natural, and if we focused on bringing more beauty into our lives through prayer and deep contemplation of the divine.

Concomitant to that would be moving away from social media, which is really a many-headed dragon that seeks to divide us for the sake of profit. It has some meritorious uses, but the main result is increasing polarization and enmity towards those who think differently than you. I say to heck with it all, and to return to more genuine, authentic human pursuits of beauty in the arts, great literature, soaring music, and the contemplative life.

I’m not sure I can do this, but heck, at this point, I’m willing to try anything to escape this miasma of hatred that has suffocated our common discourse. Would that we could learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and move more quickly to avoid the kind of conflict and mutual hatred that has plagued humanity for millennia. It’d be pretty awesome if all this great technology we had at our disposal could be used to truly promote the common good instead of being weaponized to take down our enemies and enrich billionaire oligarchs who then use their power to impose their will on the masses.

Here’s for hoping for the best and praying for the strength to endure what seems to be coming our way….

Trey Hoffman

Peachtree City, Ga.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful sentiments…however the Democrat’s aren’t interested in poetry or unity (Nor are the monolithic internet search engines or social media giants).
    Required reading (or viewing if you don’t read books) to understand our governments intent:
    * Fahrenheit 451
    * 1984
    * Soylent Green
    Just the thoughts of an old guy.

  2. I’m in the unusual position of agreeing in general with Mr. Hoffman. Although he is constitutionally incapable of avoiding swipes at his opponents and characteristically sullied his argument with several, for the first time in memory, he actually chronicled missteps of his party. I lost my bet with the bloggers here – and I am pleased that I did.

    Trey’s timing is four years late, and his interest in comity arose only when his party is out of power, but his sentiments are noble. By focusing upon the beauty of nature and life and exalting it in our artistic expressions, we can all benefit and perhaps begin the process of coming together.