The talk of secession is everywhere these days. And after particularly explosive moments like we saw last Wednesday, the conversation can even veer into the realm of something as hideous as civil war. While I'd like to believe it's all just the over-emotional, hyper-partisan blather of anonymous cyber-posters, there's no denying things are uncomfortably tense and concerningly volatile in America right now.
Is 78-year-old Joe Biden the guy to make it better?
In the lead-up to the actual American Civil War, it's no secret amongst historians that the United States suffered from a glaring lack of charismatic leadership. Before Lincoln, the previous four presidents, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan, were mere placeholders at best. Whether anyone was capable of stopping the imminent collapse of the union is unlikely of course, but a 12-year leadership vacuum certainly wasn't the answer.
So what of our current situation? Many questions swirl around Biden as he assumes the presidency in a country that, frighteningly, may be as divided as it has been since those dark days 160 years ago.
Sure, he has a far more genial personality than either of his two predecessors, but is he really in charge? Is the speculation that former President Barack Obama is set to be a puppet-master (and those are rumors fueled by Obama himself) true? If so, things are not likely to get any better.
Remember, for all those who want to blame President Trump for the divisiveness plaguing our culture these days, it was Barack Obama's community-agitating, grievance-mongering approach to political leadership that brought the rise of Trump in the first place. Even now, with Michelle Obama unashamedly lying publicly about the nature of the Black Lives Matter riots last summer that left multiple people dead and did $2 billion worth of damage, it is clear the return of Obamaism would be far closer to a salt packet than a healing balm applied to the nation's wounds.
Is that what Biden represents? Or is it the clumsy opportunism of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris that will define this administration? The woman who said in June that rioting in American cities by those who felt they had a legitimate grievance "should not" stop is going to help us turn down the collective temperature of our overwrought political climate? I don't think so.
In fairness to any political leader, this isn't a crisis that will be solved from the top down. While it's true that Washington's performance-politics drives unhealthy tribalism, it's our people's own growing addiction to social media that pits us against one another in a cesspool of nameless, faceless hatred.
And banning one prominent voice from Facebook and Twitter isn't a serious solution. Not when a million others, famous or not, use that very ban to foment deeper resentment and contempt towards those who don't think like them. If social media giants really wanted to help the health of our society, they would ban themselves.
While I know that isn't going to happen, I also know that it would be the closest thing to a quick fix for what currently ails us as a very divided people.
We need, now more than ever, to talk to one other. Not about one another, but to one another.
We need to do it face-to-face, not with screennames and avatars.
We need to do it with more than 280 characters regularly plagued by oversimplification, misrepresentation, and a galling lack of humility, but instead with full sentences and meaningful words that convey some sense of humanity, decency, and goodwill towards others.
When anonymous keyboard warriors disagree, they become inflammatory, polarizing, and dehumanizing. When neighbors disagree, there's still a sense of benevolent commonality that can bridge those gaps and remind us of a common purpose.
If America is to survive, we need a renewed, collective appreciation of that common purpose. I can't say that I think Joe Biden, even in the unlikely event he made a concerted effort to walk away from any radical policy, is capable of restoring that.
But I do think we can.