Because for seventy years Yugoslavia was one country, as government workers, university professors, and so on, Serbs and Croats lived side by side in its capital, Belgrade. So I’m told that, when the war broke out after the death of Tito, many of these people didn’t know what to do with their friendships. It’s not that they had to grapple with divided loyalties. It’s that they couldn’t understand what their relatives back in the villages were fighting about. This is the downside of becoming cosmopolitan. One loses one’s reason to fear the other, and so the capacity to hate him.
I imagine something similar is happening today in America. Educated Democrats and Republicans just can’t seem to get their blood boiling enough to enter the fray. They’re sitting back, taking turns quaffing beer on each other’s backyard patios, and sharing in their utter bafflement.
The hope is that these are the people who are going take over once the zealots – Trump’s “good people on both sides” – have exhausted themselves. That didn’t happen in the post-War ’20s in Italy, nor in the ‘30s in Germany. And if it doesn’t happen in America next year, be it 2021 or, Heaven forbid, 2025, Canada will have no choice but to invade, in precisely the way Poland should have done in 1933 when it had the chance.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been tergiversating between jocular dismissiveness and full-blown awfulizing. I guess I just want to be able to say, no matter how it turns out, that, “See, told ya so!”
But there’s something else going on about which I can’t be so self-forgiving. I think there’s a part of me that wants it to go badly. And I think I want it to go badly for the same reason I had a secret moment of low-grade delight that Tuesday morning in September, 2001. It’s not that I don’t know that Americans are just people, no better nor worse than people anywhere else in the world. That like everyone else what they care about most is their kids, and their cats, and their kids’ cats, and their kids’ cats’ kittens. But somehow I think that things going badly for America, whatever I think that is, doesn’t entail things going badly for Americans. That somehow I think that entailment commits (what informal logicians call) the fallacy of division. But it doesn’t. America just is the aggregation of its people. How do I manage not to see that?
But what worries me even more is that I suspect I’m not alone in this bizarre and inexplicable sentiment. Perhaps I am, in which case there’s nothing to be done for it but intense therapy. But if I’m not, what’s going on with us? Is it that, notwithstanding we roll our eyes at the level of ignorance in America, we’re jealous of their power in the world? Or perhaps merely resentful of it, and so we have to personify that power to give focus to that jealousy or resentment? Or is it that Americans present themselves, especially when abroad, in a manner that dovetails too closely to the stereotype we used to call the Ugly American?
I honestly don’t know. But I do know it’s an animus not to be proud of. And certainly not to be cultivated. As a Jew born shortly after the War, I was raised on another indefensible animus. I think I’ve managed to get over that one. No promises, of course, but with a little help perhaps I can work on this one too.