The light bulb suddenly went on. Poof. Just like that I got it. It all came clear when a long repressed, teenage memory returned.
I was 15 years old. I had a crush on the pastor’s daughter. The school year ended. She was leaving to spend much of the summer with a grandmother in Seattle. We promised each other we would write every week. And we did for a while.
Actually, I kept writing long after she stopped. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t hear from her. I wrote more often. “Why are you not writing back,” I pleaded. Finally, a letter arrived. “Didn’t you get my letter breaking up with you?”
Turned out Robert, my younger brother, mischievously intercepted that letter and having read it was too embarrassed to pass it along. I couldn’t understand what had changed between us until I learned I had not gotten the “Dear John” letter.
Bingo. That’s why most Americans have such difficulty understanding what happened to our country. We didn’t get the “Dear John” letter, the one where forty percent of our countrymen told us they were breaking up with what we all thought America stood for.
Someone intercepted the letter where many of our fellow Americans tried to inform us that they had grown tired of old American values like truth, decency, patriotism, honesty, and tolerance. They decided we were taking them for granted. Their eyes began to wander. Before long, they were titillated by a reality TV star who wooed them away with his glitzy lifestyle, politically incorrect rhetoric, and alternative facts promising to protect them from a future they feared if they stayed with us.
Here we were, happy as clams, thinking the vast majority of Americans favored civil rights. The letter we didn’t get told us they were flirting with white nationalists and neo-Nazis. They found themselves more in love with the Confederate flag than with Old Glory.
We thought our relationship was cemented in a melting pot only to learn they were more and more offended by anyone entering the relationship who didn’t look like them, talk like them, or think like them.
For much of our time together, we all talked about how important it was that everyone have the right to vote. Most of us worked together to expand that right. Now we know we were being two-timed. Those who jilted us decided the way to get their way, was to pass laws that made it difficult for those who might not vote for the “right” candidates while Gerrymandering congressional district to make them unfairly non-competitive.
Silly us. We believed our relationship as Americans included a consensus about helping those in need. It seemed obvious to most of us that those without healthcare, housing, or adequate income to feed their children ought to receive a helping hand from those who could afford to help. As it turned out, the greater the need, the more they resented helping.
It was especially hurtful to learn these things about the surprisingly large numbers of fellow Christians who “signed” the Dear John letter. We were foolish enough to believe that when they talked about the value of life, they meant from the womb to the tomb. We’d have never guessed so many of them believed respect for life began at conception but ended at birth.
Perhaps most shocking was to learn that our relationship with one another was not built on a foundation of truth and honesty.
But the Dear John letter we didn’t see made clear that many had decided truth and honesty no longer worked for them, that it made our conversations too stilted, our relationship too confining. Conversations we used to have about science, for example, became confrontational. It apparently took too much energy to limit themselves to that which could be proven. It was much easier to accept things that sounded like what they wanted to hear.
So, one day, the relationship ended. We just didn’t get the Dear John letter.