Perhaps that famous concept by Charles Dickens fits the current time. The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is past, a time to think about racial equality and peace, and the president of the United States is being tried in the Senate on two articles of impeachment. It may be a rough month ahead, with the sharp divide in Congress reflecting a divide among the American people.
We’ve been down this road before.
During the Civil War, there was father pitted against son, and families were bitterly and often fatally divided. Two famous theater brothers, Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, were divided over Abraham Lincoln. Edwin Booth, the greatest Hamlet of his time, was a Lincoln supporter. His flamboyant brother, John Wilkes Booth, more a matinee idol than a respected classic actor, hated Lincoln and felt he was traitor to the South. Edwin Booth finally banned his brother from his house. John Wilkes Booth took his hatred to the extreme and assassinated Lincoln, screaming in Latin from the stage, “Sic semper tyrannis! (Ever thus to tyrants!) The South is avenged.” Edwin Booth did not appear on the stage again until Jan. 3, 1866, performing Hamlet. There were death threats, but when Booth’s presence was suddenly revealed and he was about to deliver Hamlet’s first line, the audience gave him a long standing ovation.
President Donald Trump has, in many opinions, divided the nation with his rhetoric of ridicule and attack. I find it strange that any sensitive person would support a narcissistic leader like Trump, but one of my closest friends from my high school years enthusiastically supports him. His name is James and he is a retired police officer. His single mother was a Marxist liberal from the 1950s era, so how did James become a right-wing advocate of President Trump?
James and I have a long friendship including a motorcycle trip across Europe in the 1960s when an Irish Catholic Democrat was in office. James is more a brother than a friend. Eventually, we went our separate ways but connected when we both suffered a major death in the family. James lost his daughter, a Gulf War veteran, in a car crash. Janis Dean was 24. I lost a spouse. Our common grief strengthened our bond. James also suffers from MS.
There were a few arguments beginning with Trump’s election. When we meet now, we discuss everything but politics. We have found a way to ignore the 500-pound gorilla in the room. We’ve even found some common ground. For example, I agree that students should not bar controversial speakers with different views from the campus. The university is a place for divergent views. San Francisco State once invited George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party. The students sat in silence wearing Star of David armbands, which frustrated Rockwell who wanted a major confrontation. Though I may despise speakers like Ann Coulter, I would not want to stop her from speaking. James and I share a love of films like “The Hangover” and action films. If I am writing a story that involves firearms, James is the expert I call. James also has a gallows sense of humor that I share.
I don’t understand his politics so I find it easier to bypass any discussion that would lead to a confrontation. Is that cowardly? As the impeachment trial of President Trump moves forward, perhaps it is best to swallow anger and remain civil to preserve friendships and family ties. They will last longer than presidents.
Michael Corrigan of Pocatello is a San Francisco native and a retired Idaho State University English and speech communication instructor. He studied screenwriting at the American Film Institute and has authored seven books, many about the Irish American experience.