It’s only Wednesday, and it’s been a long week. Our country’s divisions are deeper – and more dangerous – than ever.
“I think it is far more admirable to kill a racist, homophobic, or transphobic speaker than it is to shout them down.”
He seemed to be addressing the trend on college campuses where students silence guest speakers (usually on the political right) they may disagree with via mob antics.
Liberal mobs attack conservatives: Liberals call drag queen protesters 'bigots.' So what's it called when they attack free speech?
What a reckless thing for a professor – or anyone – to say.
That same day, 28-year-old Audrey Hale gunned down six people, including three children, at a Christian elementary school in Nashville. The shooter, according to police and news reports, had attended the school and reportedly identified as a transgender man.
We still know little about Hale’s background or motivation. But that hasn’t stopped the inflammatory rhetoric from all sides. As usual, the left (and often the media) wants to pin blame on what conservative politicians may be doing to limit LGBTQ rights.
And the right is clamoring to point to the shooter’s gender identity as the culprit.
I’m sure many Americans fall in between these extremes, but it’s the loudest voices that dominate our discourse.
When tragedies happen in this country, it is increasingly rare for these horrible events to bring us together. Rather, they drive the wedge of intolerance ever deeper. The knee-jerk reaction is to blame those we see as the political opposition – even if they have nothing to do with one individual’s heinous acts.
I think something even more insidious is going on. And it has to do with the erosion of common values we once held as a country.
'Not left or right, but deep': How people of faith can help to heal America's divisions
On Monday, two polls came out that highlighted these societal shifts.
A survey from the Wall Street Journal-NORC found that priorities such as patriotism, tolerance and religious faith are quickly losing ground among Americans. The poll also highlighted sharp political divisions in regard to racial and gender diversity efforts.
Just since 1998, when the WSJ first conducted the poll, the percentage of Americans who view patriotism as “very important” has fallen to 38% from 70%. Similarly, only 39% now say religion is very important, down from 62%.
Having children and community involvement are also less of a priority. Alarmingly, tolerance for others – seen by 80% as very important just four years ago – has dropped to 58%.
Social media as teacher?
Similarly, a new poll sponsored by the Medal of Honor Foundation (the nonprofit that supports Medal of Honor recipients) found that nearly 80% of those surveyed believe shared values and character – such as patriotism, integrity and courage – are important. Yet, 71% don’t think there’s enough focus on these values in today’s society.
Most Americans think that young people now learn most of their values from social media, rather than at home or at school. That's troubling given that social media is so divisive.
“We have our work cut out for us when it comes to strengthening our values,” says former Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts, a Medal of Honor recipient and board member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Pitts and fellow honorees are dedicated to serving as role models for the next generation. He says a common purpose can bring Americans together – something he saw first-hand in the military when he served alongside people from vastly different backgrounds.
“It was inspiring to me to see that we could have our discussions and talk about how we're different, but that we could go put on the same uniform and be dedicated to each other,” Pitts told me. “We can be different, and we don't have to be divided.”
As our divisions continue to grow, and we increasingly see each other as the enemy, what will it take to bring us together?
Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nashville shooting should unite us. Instead, we point fingers.