PerspectivesNikesha Elise Williams Jacksonville Today Contributor
A protester and counter-protester talk outside the Duval County Courthouse after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs in June of 2022. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

OPINION | Are we irretrievably broken?

Published on November 2, 2022 at 7:15 pm
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The attack ads this election cycle have been vicious. Opponents on both sides have been characterized as racist, dangerous, liars and just all out wrong. While the rhetoric may seem standard for the divisively gerrymandered country at all levels, I’m concerned with the deeper narratives such rhetoric supports. 

As a writer, I know that words matter. They can be bent to craft stories and disseminate ideas used to provoke thought, inspire change and insight action. These thoughts, this sought-after change and the movements toward action can be for our benefit or to our detriment. 

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Jokes made in the aftermath of the attempted murder on Paul Pelosi contribute to a narrative that violence and force is not only necessary but inevitable, and a worthy risk for people purporting themselves to be patriots in defense of freedom. 

Meanwhile, the immediate backlash to recent anti-Semitic hate speech indicates that a certain kind of bigotry is wholly intolerable. And I say “certain kind,” as there is rarely a swift repudiation to anti-Black racism and hate speech. 

However, these reactions have become as ingrained in our political two-party system, as have designations of what is left and what is right, what is progressive and what is conservative, and what is liberal and what is extremism. 

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The labels we attach to stories about attacks on members of Congress, the Capitol, voters or our democracy are not simple literary devices used to bewitch a readership. Words and phrases like “white supremacist,” “capitalist patriarchy,” and “authoritarian populism” are dog whistles, the same as “law and order,” “parental rights” and “election security.” 

No matter what side of the aisle you favor, our “coded” language of choice is a growl from the gut that the other side needs to beware. On the left, we need to be wary of elected leaders who want to strip birthing people of their ability to choose. The right is wary of elected leaders’ stealing their guns and eliminating freedoms enshrined in the amendments to the constitution. 

Yet in all this barking, and threats to bite, the cognitive dissonance has deepened the divisions between us. In many cases, we don’t trust one another, we dispute facts, argue with the truth, and will readily repeat conjecture and conspiracy theories posted by anyone with a WiFi signal to a platform that forces you to limit your arguments to 280 characters or less. Not words, but characters, as if brevity is the best form for an explanation. Zingy quips issued without listening to reason. 

As a country, state, county and a people, we are talking at and over each other instead of having a conversation. This is reflected in the televised political debates that are designed for candidates to repeat their platforms and talking points without addressing their constituents’ actual concerns. It is further illustrated in the attack ads that have run for months. 

This isn’t news, debate or discourse. It is entertainment; and not of the didactic variety, but a circus, where looks, personality and showmanship matter more than substance.

Like a broken marriage that remains in name only, we are past the point where a counselor should have intervened and worked with us to reconcile and repair. Instead, we remain legally joined and, armed with our irreconcilable differences, we are supposed to go to the polls and vote to maintain or restore the good of our union when we’ve never been one. 

Just as family law attorneys use the phrase “irretrievably broken,” I’m beginning to believe our country is the personification of the definition. 

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.

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