We are on a collision course when people are convinced that their fellow citizens aren’t like them, that they are dangerous, do not respect the law, and don’t deserve the same treatment. At that point, there are no longer any rules for the road. Up is down; wrong is right; your side of the road is now mine.
We collide when we lose track of what’s real and what’s imagined. While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, no one is entitled to their own facts. Blurring this line endangers us. We’ve used technologies in ways that make this all too easy, though. For decades, beginning with cable news, we’ve let every viewer pick a news service that reinforces their prejudices. Social media compounded this, because we choose our truth and then algorithms ensure that we are fed more stories that reinforce those beliefs. Smart phones have taken this even further. Suddenly every one of us with an internet connection is a journalist and publisher. Before the traditional media have even heard about a story, we are blogging it, uploading images to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and effectively creating our own unverified self-serving version of events. This is the system that helped propel the perpetrator of the “birther” lie into the White House.
So in the wake of a tragic event that should stun and chasten us all, we have no leadership from the White House. But we still have a choice. Will we fight this truth decay ourselves? Every person has the choice whether to accept what may be false and spread it to friends. Or not. The President still claims violence was caused by “many sides.” Propaganda websites are already denying that the Charlottesville killing even happened, or claiming the driver was a liberal stooge sent by the Left through an elaborate conspiracy, or offering other lies and false equivalents. People can accept these uncritically, and claim the very worst about their political adversaries. But we all know, because we all drive the same roads, that these things aren’t true.
Regardless of who we are, the fact is that virtually all Americans want to live in peace, to get to our destination, and to see others do the same. Without acknowledging it, even the angriest among us, actually still have some faith in one another and demonstrate it each time they get behind the wheel. This moment offers those who enabled haters, liars, and demonizers to bring violence to Charlottesville to pause and reflect on one simple fact. It’s a fact so obvious they didn’t even think about it as they were driving back home: that they are alive now because of the respect and trust of dozens of strangers who were driving the other way. And that is the truth: ultimately — whichever direction we are going — none of us will survive without honoring those two yellow lines: trust and respect.