Luckily, in the vast middle, he says, "these culture-war issues that get people so pumped up, most of us don't really care about." Sure, there are "still plenty of angry people, and I don't think they're gonna go anywhere. Some people just like to scream. When you look at the Internet, and how that's empowered people to make their voices heard, really what millions of Americans do for fun right now is they log onto the Internet and get in anonymous fights with people they've never met."
But, Beckerman hopes, the national pendulum is swinging back to the center. Why? Because people are thinking about what's important. "When the economy is collapsing, and people are worried that Mad Max is going to become a reality, and were gonna be cannibalizing each other for protein, nobody cares if some transvestites are getting married and aborting their third-trimester fetuses while burning the flag."
Speaking of flags: maybe it's that sort of exclusionary focus on our shared peril that makes for the synapse-snapping cognitive dissonance of scenes like an Indiana front porch with a Confederate flag fluttering above an Obama sign.
The reborn patriot
Yes, life will always be lived differently in urban areas than in rural areas. Race and class issues will always cause us agita. And no one's asking or suggesting that Utah must think and act like Massachusetts. There are 303,824,640 sets of opinions constantly at work in this country. Which is great. That's the point of having a big, complex democracy. The idea is to keep them from ghettoizing us into warring ideological factions.
In the middle of a spontaneous eruption of screaming, honking, and high-fiving on Mass Ave in Cambridge last Tuesday night, someone was waving an American flag.
"The flag!" a guy nearby yelled, seemingly surprising himself. "I love the flag again!"
Sad that he should ever have felt differently. Because there's nothing wrong with a "non-hubristic, non-jingoistic patriotism," says Schaeffer. "There's nothing wrong with saying, 'I love my country, let's all work together to make it better.' "
One idea Schaeffer and Roth-Douquet put forth is that the relationship among US citizens needs to change from that of a co-habitation into something more resembling a marriage.
I got married a couple months ago. In the run-up to the wedding, my wife and I got lots of advice. One helpful apothegm was repeated more than once — including by Roth-Douquet, when speaking about the United States: "No opinion you have is more important than your relationship."
Mike Miliard reaches out and loves you all. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.