Most people think this is the first time this country has been divided. They need to study history.
I think back to the Vietnam Days with LBJ/Nixon and the Civil Rights era. We were very divided – more so than today, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets and campuses, and students left dead at Kent State. I remember that day, as I am from Ohio; and though I did not know any of the kids that were killed, one of them was a relative of one of my friends.
I think back to the Reagan days when AIDS and South Africa were all but ignored. I remember all those protests in the streets asking for basic freedoms. Reagan was not the most gay-friendly president. I was president of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Foundation during the AIDS crisis. We were divided as a country between gays and straights. The first gay march was in June of 1969, in Greenwich Village. It came after a riot at the Stonewall Bar which police were raiding. As a friend of mine said, we were lucky not to be spit on back then.
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I think back to George W. Bush days when many of us were against the Iraq invasion – a real invasion – and we were criticized for being "un-American" as news broadcasters were banging the drum for war. Did we gain anything from that war? Did we gain anything from Vietnam? Many of our friends died in that war or returned with psychological injuries and were not welcomed back. They had been drafted, had no choice as to being there – but still were not welcomed home.
A couple of columns ago, I talked about reading Jill Lapore's book on the history of the United States. We were, as a country, so divided about slavery and states' rights that we engaged in a civil war. We were divided about women's right to vote. We are not yet at these levels of divisiveness, but we easily could be.
It doesn't help that our president stokes the divide with his tweets and his talk. We need to come together as a country or else risk being like China or Russia where free speech is stomped upon, where common niceness is just another product of the state, and where people do not get along for the sake of getting along, but are afraid to speak up and support each other for fear of the state.
I think back to the Obama days when conservatives felt they were left out. There was quite a division among those who didn't like the way the country was heading. Americans are a divided but a diverse group of people.
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I am not sure this Trump division is worse than what it was in the 60s. I can still remember the sirens, the curfews, the violence and all the president's lies. I remember the day President Johnson said he was not running for re-election. We all cheered. He said in a letter he thought it would "unite Americans and so advance the day of peace." We thought that this would be the end of the war. That was in 1968, but the war didn't end until April of 1975 – after we lost 58,220 people.
I was not around during the Civil War or when women got the right to vote. Around 620,000 people were killed in the Civil War, much more than were killed in Vietnam. I was around during Jim Crow laws and lived in Memphis, Tennessee in 1965. It was awful then; and although Memphis and much of the South is fully integrated, there are still places and people who don't support those of us on the left.
We need to be respectful of all ideas and people. We were very nice to each other after 9/11. People would talk to each other. They would wait in line patiently. That did not last long. People went back to their old ways of being divisive and having little respect for each other.
We need to learn that not everyone thinks that way we do. People come from different backgrounds, were raised differently. That is the American way, even though history doesn't change much.
A talk show host friend of mine said we will get through this. We have before. I hope he is right. We need to be a country that respects differences.