A House Divided: Thoughts on Pittsburgh and the climate of America

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Jack Scalia, Denison University

The first headline comes as a shock, everything that follows, however, is the sad, predictable reality of our society. I am speaking, of course, about the atrocities which have become almost routine in our country and the politically charged media frenzy that quickly follows.

Most recently, on Saturday morning in a Pittsburgh synagogue, a man shot and killed eleven people while injuring six others. The blood had still not dried when the first “refresh” of the news feed revealed the first politically charged story. It did not take long for the story to be flushed out by the wave of partisan bickering. This past weekend has been the perfect example of how our broken society sputters along and depicts exactly why that very society is so broken and so ill.

I saw the horrific news about the synagogue massacre on my walk to the gym. After I managed a doleful prayer, I continued my walk –although my familiar surroundings could not have felt more alien. By the time I’d arrived at the athletic center, although the wailing of sirens and distraught innocents still rang loud in Pittsburgh, all attention in the media had shifted entirely. The coverage of the horror scene has quickly been transformed from the site of a reprehensible anti-Semitic attack to the latest partisan battleground. It took no more than five minutes –the walk from dorm room to gym– for the media to report a travesty, offer the compulsory “thoughts and prayers”, and to then, without a semblance of politesse, to lambast the opposing side –using the latest atrocity to unapologetically and indiscriminately lather the blood of the dead on the opposition’s hands.

In today’s America, there is no cease-fire when one of our own is stricken. The time to mourn is replaced with ire, the time for prayer replaced by blame, and the time for healing replaced with a call to arms. This much is evident from the aftermath of the tragic events in the past few years, such as the shootings in Las Vegas, Parkland and the First Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas — just to name a few.  Although unsettling, this is commonplace in our society.

It did not take but minutes for either side of the aisle to assign blame onto the hands of their opposition. Neither side tries to mask their vitriol, nor do they wish to. The differences in policy preferences and political affiliations are equated to a lack of compassion and worse –with the complicity of the act itself. Saturday evening, I saw a tweet which proclaimed that anyone in opposition to gun-control (despite the wide breadth of gun-control) was as guilty as the man who pulled the trigger. The tweet, satirical at best, (although more likely malicious) reaffirmed to me something I knew deep inside but did not want to admit –we as a country do not have the ability to grieve. For to grieve is to allow our humanity to obscure us on our partisan mission to first assign blame and then to systematically attack the other side, reaffirming to ourselves that we are not only correct but that the other side is evil.

In a tumultuous time, such as the present, unity is more important than ever. In the Gospel of Mark, it is prophetically stated that “If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln echoed these sentiments in the midst of the greatest divide in American history- slavery. I fear, however, that our house has already fallen and what remains is the mere shell of a country once unified, under a flag once revered. Each side finds a political win preferable to a moment of unity, unity not amongst two parties, but as one nation. The zero-sum politics game has divided our country along partisan lines that seem unlikely to be bridged. These fissures have only widened with each great tragedy.

Historically, these moments of strife are what unify a country, an opportunity for politics to be put to the side and for the nation to come together as one. Clearly, this is not the case; the further we entrenched ourselves in partisan values, the less likely we are ever to stand united. As George Washington forewarned in his farewell address, it is the “interest and duty of wise people to discourage and restrain the spirit of the party.”  Our interests and sense of duty has dramatically shifted since the unification of our great country. No longer do we pledge our allegiance to one nation under God, but instead we sell our allegiance to whichever party’s empty promises seem most advantageous to our interests.

The American Experiment is ill, and without a resurgence of compassion, it is doomed. When the next tragedy comes –which it inevitably will– let us learn to grieve together, let us pray together, and with time, let us heal together. It all sounds trivial, but I believe that if we can do these unremarkably human things–we can begin to rebuild the House that has been divided far too long.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my brother, Nino Scalia, for inspiring to write this piece.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: