So many want to believe in something enough to die for it. So many want to draw a line in the sand. Here and no further, a place to take our stand.

But refusing to get vaccinated? Everyone admires deep conviction, but that’s the best you could come up with?

Live free or die? Live unvaccinated and die?

Novak Djokovic passes up a ton of money and a shot at tennis immortality all because he won’t take a couple of shots in the arm, increasing the odds of his own mortality and endangering those he comes in contact with.

Everyone needs a shot in the arm. So does this country.

But criticism and righteous fury won’t convince the anti-vaxxers, we’re told. They just dig in their heels even more. More stubborn. More intractable. 

More principled.

Don’t tell me how to live, they say. I’d rather die.

I’d rather die than eat bugs, even if that were my last resort, yet in worst-case circumstances, I might feel differently.

The Supreme Court though is sympathetic. You can’t tell people they have to get vaccinated even during a deadly epidemic. The original framers of the Constitution, they say, would be appalled. 

Make people do what’s good for them? Save lives? Un-American! Unconstitutional!

Americans have rights, including, apparently, the right to endanger other’s lives. We have a right to be free … from responsibility, from caring about our fellow human beings, from contributing to the common good, from coming to the aid of our fellow citizens during a raging pandemic, from making one reasonable exception to our almighty convictions when your country asks you to.

I have the right to believe whatever I want to believe. I have the right to base those beliefs on any information, no matter how untrue.

The principled anti-vaxxer: vaccinated against truth, immunized against rationality and reason.

But it doesn’t do any good to get ornery. Nothing we say will convince them otherwise.

Acceptance is our only alternative, acceptance of the fact that we live in a time and land where consensus on facing a grave public health peril is impossible because those who feel left behind, left out, overlooked, and under-served have gone on strike. 

A citizenship walkout. 

They’ve lost faith in everything — except themselves and the tribe that shares their disbelief in the system and will only accept the leadership of those who tell them what they want to hear.

Disaffected, disillusioned, disengaged.

Today’s secessionists.

Modern-day confederates still refuse to accept the outcome of the Civil War. Conservatives still refuse to accept the passage of Social Security, Medicare, and Civil Rights. The tribe of Trump still refuses to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

The Confederacy lives on in full rebellion, fighting a cultural civil war, treating the rest of us like the enemy. 

How then do we live together? Without mutual enmity, that is, recognizing our respective limitations as human beings, according courtesy, respect and dignity even when it’s not accorded to us. 

How, in other words, do we hold the Union together when a house divided against itself cannot stand? 

During our last great Culture War, the ironically named “Civil” War, Abraham Lincoln, one of the finest human beings this country ever produced, was willing to do anything to hold the Union together.

To preserve the Union, he was willing to inflict, and incur, horrific casualties to win a war that could not be avoided. He prosecuted that war at great cost, but not at the cost of his humanity. He never gave in to hating the other side. 

Some think we can end our current Culture War by disengaging. They believe “civility” and “even-handedness” will resolve everything. But that’s “nonviolent resistance” without the “resistance.” This struggle, too, is unavoidable. It needs to be fought because it needs to be decided — without taking up arms, taking up the vote instead, arming ourselves with the truth, mobilizing our greater numbers, despite every effort by the other side to make voting more difficult.

Gandhi and King pioneered nonviolent resistance not “nonviolence” alone and not “resistance” alone. We need both to win this war. The late, great Desmond Tutu invented the “Truth and Reconciliation” process in South Africa, which proved that national reconciliation was possible. But first the truth had to be told. We need both.

When you live in a fortress of denial, truth feels like an assault. But we need to tell it nonetheless (insofar as we can discern the truth, recognizing that no one has a monopoly on truth). 

This conflict goes all the way back to the 1960s when a rift developed between the World War II generation — which benefitted from this country’s united front against an existential threat — and the Vietnam generation, which had good reasons to be suspicious of authority and rebelled against it. The country never fully recovered from that loss of faith. It only got worse.

Not all anti-vaxxers are Trumpists or even conservative. Some are on the left and in the middle. But whether you’re an anti-vaxxer or a simply a non-vaxxer, the truth is that you helped keep this pandemic going longer than it should have. Your ideology or your mistrust of government and the health care system or your misinformation or your simple fear took precedence over the common good. 

The truth is, when this nation needed you most, you let the rest of us down.

To the hesitant who stepped forward and got their shots anyway, your courage is deeply appreciated. And to those who did so grudgingly, even resentfully, because of mandates, your sacrifice is doubly appreciated.

The truth is we are one nation and, from time to time, we need to pull together to face a common threat. This pandemic is a dress rehearsal for the greater battle ahead as we face the gathering storm of the climate crisis.

We got a 70 percent on this test (those vaccinated), barely a passing grade. We cannot afford to fail the next test.

Being “even-handed” is not going to resolve this country’s polarization. One side is extreme. The other is not. The extreme side must be defeated by the nonviolent resistance of the majority’s votes, as many times as that takes.

We are all “us,” but on one side of us, there is no “common good,” only individual rights.

The other side of us wants to balance the common good and individual rights. A big difference.

That side must win this Un-Civil War, without giving in to hatred, then extend the hand of friendship and forgiveness as Lincoln did.

Only then can we create a more perfect, and healthier, Union.

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