Two political persuasions in this country buy into it, and the third names itself after it. Republicans want independence from all things government when it comes to their guns, their worship, and their money. Democrats want it when it comes to their bodies and their sexuality. Independents want it… well, all the time.
The effect, in the end, is the same: the American cult of individualism and independence is fraying the fabric of contemporary American culture. We are warring against each other for essentially doing the same thing: insisting on our right to do whatever the hell we want with our (money, bodies, guns, beliefs…).
So when you find yourself being yelled at by your television this summer about the evils of the other candidate and his party, just remember, both parties exalt in the cult of individuality and independence. They just happen to disagree about the particular ends to be exalted. In either case, though, the common center is marginalized — the very center that allows us to call this country the “United States of America” with a straight face. A house divided against itself cannot stand. The politicos, meanwhile, are busy dividing, dismembering, impaling.
Don’t be surprised if a few years from now, the leading edges of dissension and anarchy start to show. We are increasingly unable to live with each other and can no longer disagree without demonizing. We no longer know how to “tolerate,” which by definition means living with something/someone you don’t happen to agree with, but whose right to hold an opinion different from yours is a sacred trust. It’s a tricky balance, this thing called tolerance, only accessible to those who can hold two disparate thoughts in their head without imploding, who understand that tolerance is, at the end of the day, the first and final virtue of any democracy. Without it, we devolve into a theocracy, a monarchy, into anarchy; the very things, in other words, we rejected in framing the contours of this country.
We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.