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Commentary: Our nation is sick, but we are too distracted by the symptoms to cure it

The excessive vilifying of political opponents is a sickness that is weakening our nation. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“There is a deep sickness taking root in this country and it is spread here," Glenn Beck wrote on Twitter early Sunday morning. "Twitter has become a white van covered in despicable bumper stickers."

Beck had quote-tweeted President Donald Trump's statement of condolences to those affected by the mass murder at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and also expressed frustration with those who would lay blame for the tragedy at the feet of the president. The "white van" metaphor is a reference to mail bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc's vehicle.

The tweet is quite correct; there is indeed a deep sickness within the United States. However, I wonder if we have truly diagnosed what the sickness is, or whether we spend all our time only attacking the symptoms as the disease grows worse.

Attempted bombings, targeted killings, violent protests, and poisonous rhetoric are only symptoms. Yet we spend much of our time treating them, repeatedly popping painkillers to ease a persistent headache without realizing we have terminal brain cancer.

That’s because it’s easier to believe we can solve all our problems by silencing the other side than it is to admit that the corruption in our hearts and the disregard we have for our fellow Americans is the disease from which all the subsequent division and destruction proceeds.

And while it is wrong and foolish to say Trump must bear direct responsibility for attempted terrorist attacks because he speaks harshly of political opponents, it is useful to remember that life and death is in the power of the tongue, and the mouth speaks the overflow of the heart. And our hearts are the problem.

In our hearts lies hatred of the “other side.” We don’t just disagree anymore; we demonize. We don’t just protest anymore; we verbally and physically assault. We don’t rebuke with the goal of correction and restoration, we rebuke to tear down and destroy. We sow animosity and reap it and sow it back again until we have reaped thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold.

Our disagreements don’t come from a place of love. We don’t believe the best about each other. We don’t assign good intentions to people who have a different view of the country. We vilify them and accuse them of destroying the nation, and they do the same.

This progresses so that over time, advocating for gun rights makes you complicit in children’s murders. Support of a Supreme Court confirmation means you condone sexual assault. Disagreement about the definition of gender is equal to erasure of an entire segment of the population.

When the stakes get exaggerated to that degree, it’s not hard to see how an already unstable, violent or ill person might use that as an excuse to take a gun to a house of worship or put some bombs in the mail. Without a doubt, only the perpetrator bears true responsibility for his or her actions, but these things also don't happen in a vacuum. An environment of hate creates fertile ground for violence.

It’s shortsighted to revel in political wins that come at the expense of our ability to unify as a nation. We neither win nor lose with class and dignity. As a result, the social cost of a health care bill or a Supreme Court justice or a border wall is becoming so high that one day we’ll look back and mourn how much we paid for our political triumphs. Not because the causes weren’t worth fighting for, but because we will have lost the nation we thought we were fighting to protect in the process.

Inflammatory rhetoric is not the sickness of our nation. The sickness is in each of us, in what we believe and how we think about those we share this country with. As long as we have hearts of hate and enmity toward our political opponents, rather than opposition that is civilized and rooted in love for our neighbors, our nation will remain sick even if we say nothing at all.

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