The Threats Americans Feel

From “The Seven Democratic Virtues: What You Can Do to Overcome Tribalism and Save Our Democracy” by Christopher Beem

As we all know too well, many Americans consider themselves and their tribe to be under threat right now in precisely this way.

  • White Americans feel ever less comfortable and familiar in their own country. An influx of immigrants has changed their society in ways that they do not understand or approve. If those trends continue, their way of life – that is, the way things used to be – appears to be gone forever. For their part, those same immigrants feel unwelcome and even unsafe in the country they were so desperate to get to and to which they are so committed.
  • Working people, especially older men, feel threatened by the loss of a working wage. They remain prepared to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, but people have been replaced by robots and, some believe, by immigrants. The jobs are gone, and with them feelings of self-worth. Younger people see an economy controlled by that older generation that has left them saddled with insurmountable college debt and a planet that is on fire. And while baby boomers are only too happy to have the younger generation make the lattes, they stubbornly and smugly hold on to privileges that make it harder for young people to make their way in the world.
  • Rural Americans feel threatened by an economy that is leaving them behind. Their towns’ tax base slowly evaporates; opioid addiction brings crime, squalor, and death; the next generation cannot find jobs and has to leave. Similarly, people of color believe that the latest case of police violence demonstrates that their second-class status in this society has never really changed, and the only difference is that now there is video.
  • Evangelicals feel threatened by a culture that they believe denigrates them and their beliefs. Religious convictions against homosexual conduct, let alone trans people, are dismissed as benighted bigotry. Cultural acceptance, even indifference, regarding sinful behavior thus manifests a culture that has turned its back on God, one in which they no longer have a place. For their part, LGBTQ citizens feel that their hard-won social acceptance and even their right to be who they are are under attack by a powerful and bigoted subset of American society.
  • Humiliation and victimhood characterize women’s feelings as well. The rise of the Me Too movement has only exposed the raw sexism that pervades the country at the highest levels of government, business, sports, and entertainment. It treats women unfairly and leaves them unsafe. For men, the threat is that women now demand the end of due process: a single accusation of rape can destroy a man without any genuine recourse.
  • Gun owners feel that the federal government wants to take their guns away and turn patriotic Americans into criminals for asserting their constitutional and God-given rights to defend themselves and their families. But as schoolchildren must endure yet another lockdown drill, their parents grow ever more fearful that the next mass shooting will take place in their own town, all because spineless politicians cower before the inordinate and irresponsible power of the National Rifle Association and its minions.