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The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Hellfire and heart-shaped hand grenades fuel rally

Photo credit: William French

We’ve got a serious problem here in the U.S. of A. The problem is that “we the people” are no longer “we.” More and more we’re becoming “us” and “them.” We’re becoming the “left” and the “right.” It’s the North/South divide all over again, but this time it’s an omni-directional split, and the frontline is everywhere.

You can see it in the news and hear it in street conversations; among friends and in your home; reflected in the reading glasses of some guy on the bus gazing sleepily into his cell phone, digesting the latest headline: “Trump Says Blah.” You can blame Trump. You can blame Cruz. Hell, you can blame everyone on the proverbial “right.” But the fact remains, they’re sending the blame right back at you, and they don’t care what you think.

The other day I witnessed the schism on a micro level. A street preacher appeared on campus to preach about gays being sinners, the crucifixion of Jesus and all that good stuff. In the past, students mostly ignored these preachy types.

You’d see the occasional cluster of students arguing with them, but that was it. This time it was different. This time the proselytizing hit home with a girl who was walking by, causing her to break down in tears. She reportedly identified as gay, and understandably, didn’t appreciate being told that she was going to hell for it.

Friends of the girl, outraged students and other bystanders swept up in the commotion gathered en masse, waving impromptu signs bearing their counter-message: love and equality. On the face of it, this was a rally against bigotry, hate and the “other side” of America. That much was made clear when students started chanting, “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!”

In response, the bible thumper remarked, “Oh yeah, you spoiled college liberals and your communist candidate.” That’s what this was about? I thought it was about standing up for the girl who had just been bullied to tears. But as the crowd grew, all memory of her melted in the heat of the fervor.

The demonstration quickly devolved into a shouting match, less about changing minds and more about flexing philosophies. It became less about challenging bigotry and more about ganging up on a lone bigot. This guy stood in the middle of a sea of angry faces, singing songs about Jesus and arguing with anyone who would step up to the plate. At what point does standing up for your beliefs become as repetitive and painful as bashing your head against a wall for hours?

I think Chico State students explored that question last Wednesday — and they found the line, too. That day the free speech area resembled a carnival with a queue for the main attraction: Who can ride the Christian bigot the longest?

I know why people gathered to confront this ignorant, hateful man. It was to champion a cause they cared about. It was in defense of a girl whose sexual orientation makes her a target of prejudice every day. But in the boiling heat of the moment, people lost sight of that.

We often hear Trump supporters talk about the left as an oppressive, dogmatic force. I have often refuted that claim; it seems like a ridiculous claim to make. All the liberal voices I’ve heard are about enacting positive social change, not oppression of an opposing ideology simply for the sake of “winning.”

Sadly, liberals morph into that imagined enemy when they go into attack mode. Activism loses its potency and its purpose when people mob up, rather than focusing on what matters.

When protesters demonstrate at Trump rallies, they’re not eroding the movement; they’re strengthening it. They’re making people like Trump safe to make claims about the leftist aggressor, the liberal zealot, the feminazi.

These are the archetypes that the other America rallies around, and it doesn’t matter if their perception is flawed or not, because as long as those on the left succumb to mob mentality, the right will have proof of their suspicions and the wheel just keeps turning.

Sound fatalistic? Maybe we can turn things around. Maybe someone has a wrench for this ugly set of gears. We need to open the dialogue. We need to confront ideologies rather than attack the people who hold them. It’s not enough to draw a line in the sand and rally like-minded people around you.

The only way a hellfire and brimstone street preacher can learn to accept a homosexual is if he knows one. That can never happen if no one meets him halfway. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I say hatred comes from a place of ignorance, and people can abandon those beliefs given the chance.

The other America is drifting further and further from the mainstream because educated people are not interacting with the uneducated; reasonable people are shunning the unreasonable. That’s why the rise of Trump seems to have come from nowhere, because we’ve lost touch with each other.

We don’t know what the other side is saying because we’re not listening. Put succinctly: Think of the United State as a massive chemistry experiment. When things get too acidic we have to neutralize the mixture. We need to find a base. We need to find balance.

Eric Couderc McGuire can be reached at [email protected] or @ericcoudercmcg on Twitter.

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