Last week the $1 Trillion “bipartisan” infrastructure bill passed the House. How bipartisan was support for the bill? In the House, the vote was 228-206 with 13 Republicans voting for it, while six Democrats voted against it. Given our country’s fractured politics, this slight crossing of the aisle to support a bill in an area that both parties agree is essential was considered monumental. Sad.
While it’s easy to blame Congress for their fractious bickering and failure to work together, their partisanship is largely a reflection of the underlying division in our country.
A few months ago, I came across a term that encapsulates what’s been troubling me about our country: “oikophobia.” The word comes from the Greek word “oikos” which means “home” or “house” and from “phobia” which is a fear. Thus, “oikophobia” is an aversion to a home environment, or an abnormal fear (phobia) of one’s home.
Roger Scrunton, an English philosopher, took the general concept of oikophobia and specifically applied it to mean the opposite of xenopobia (which is a fear of foreigners). He proposed that oikophobia includes a fear of one’s fellow countrymen. Writing in 1993, he noted, “for many years Americans assumed they belonged to a single society, marked by local variations but with a common loyalty, a common language, and a common law.” He questioned whether that was still the case — are conservatives and liberals heading in different directions altogether?
I too wonder whether our shared values are cleaving. Large swaths of the populace seems to be unable to understand each other. The left views much of the right as “deplorables” and ignoramouses who won’t wear masks or get vaccinated, who only care about guns and preserving the white majority view of history. The right views those on the left as snowflake, woke elites who want the U.S. to be socialist, who seek overturn the basic tenents of the Constitution, and want to sacrifice our liberties in for the sake of equality. Each “side” looks at the other with skepticsm and fear.
So I think Scrunton’s definition of oikophobia is roughly descriptive of our current state of affairs. But I think our current underlying feeling of oikophobia is normal. I’ve recently read a fantastic book by David Rubenstein called The American Experiment which is a collection of interviews with historians, authors, sports figures, and other luminaries about important moments in history and what makes our country uniquely American — the good, the bad, and the ugly. The book reminded me of all the times over our nation’s history when we’ve not seen eye-to-eye and have engaged in real ugliness. Our tendency to look back and think that there was a past America that was ideal and that we all believed and lived under that single ideal is just plain wrong. Let us not forget that we had slavery in our country and a Civil War. In our past we shamefully promoted eugenics, didn’t allow women to vote, and counted black Americans as 3/5th a person. We interred Japanese Americans in camps during WWII. The Vietnam war tore a hole in the fabric of how we viewed ourselves as a country and what our role is in the world. Each of these issues was accompanied with strong opposing beliefs and disagreement (and sometimes violence).
In short, we’ve always had issues about which we strongly disagree. The thought that things were better in the past is largely a myth. There were no “good old days.” The past has its issues too. Sure, we’re afraid of our fellow countrymen and what’s in their hearts and minds, but I think that’s just reality most of the time.
My final comment on this topic is that I find that my friends on the right and those on the left have much more in common than they realize. As I talk with friends from different political views I find they want the best for their kids and communities. They want everyone to have opportunities to find happiness and achieve success. They believe in the rule of law and that America can be a force for good in the world. I believe increased interactions with those with different views is essential to the long-term health of our country. And those interactions should be focused on listening to each other rather than telling why the other is wrong (or deplorable).