The Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, proclaimed that America's first 13 colonies were finally free from British rule.
When Thomas Jefferson crafted that document, it was hardly with the notion of alienating Americans from each other. To the contrary — the declaration was no doubt intended to bring people in the fledgling nation together.
Fast-forward 241 years, and we seem to be experiencing one of the most divisive times in our history as a country. As we approach the Fourth of July holiday, with its waving flags, fireworks, parades and barbecues, we're often seeing more Blue and Red than red, white and blue — and that is a shame.
All one has to do is sample social media or listen to talk radio to know that a virulent kind of conflict has overtaken our discourse, bleeding into areas it shouldn't. Opinions and facts are getting blurred to the point where people are even arguing over their definitions, and otherwise level-headed folks can be observed engaging in nasty, accusatory rhetoric that diminishes our collective ability to see clearly — and to see the best in others.
Longtime friends are "unfriending" each other on Facebook and this summer could bring separate family gatherings for staunch conservatives and loyal liberals wary of sharing hot dogs and potato salad at the same picnic table lest a war of words breaks out.
Part of the blame can be laid at the feet of partisan politics, but today's schism runs deeper than that — to a point where even a Capitol Hill shooting that left a member of Congress seriously wounded and the perpetrator dead last week brings out the Hatfields and McCoys to argue over gun control, mental health and which party is behaving the worst in the day-to-day battle for the soul of our country.
Last Wednesday, when a man opened fire on the Republican baseball team during a practice, two Capitol Police officers assigned to the security detail for Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana ran, shooting, toward the gunman, drawing his fire while team members ran for cover, and likely saving Scalise's life.
One of those officers was an African-American lesbian named Crystal Griner. We could choose to see that act as not only selfless but also an example of what it means to separate ideology from the innate humanity of another.
While they appear to be on opposite sides of the aisle (Griner is married to another woman and Scalise opposes same-sex marriage and other LGBT goals), in that fraught moment, the personal politics of the two mattered not a whit. They may very well be considering that truth as Scalise recovers from critical injuries and multiple surgeries and as Griner recovers from a gunshot wound to her ankle. Both will be processing their mutual brush with death.
On July 4, let's take a break from judging and sniping at each other and instead imagine an emotional reunion between those two. Let's remember the power of the bond between someone who desperately needs help and someone who reaches out to give it, sans right-wing or left-wing filters. That could go a long way toward mending the torn fabric of our nation. And it might even rescue a few festive feasts from the ashes of estrangement.