YARBROUGH COLUMN: It’s not the wolves we should worry about, it’s the termites

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Columnist David French is a recent addition to the editorial pages of the New York Times. (Yes, I read the New York Times, but I don’t inhale.) His is a conservative voice. Born in Alabama and currently living in Tennessee, French describes himself as a “Reagan Republican” going back to his early teens. I like him already.

French was graduated from Lipscomb University, a Christian school in Nashville. At Harvard Law, he started a pro-life organization. As an attorney, he spent many years defending the rights of Christian students who were being denied their freedom of expression on college campuses. He served in Iraq and was awarded a Bronze Star. David French is my idea of what a true conservative should be: Thoughtful and compassionate. A Johnny Isakson. A Paul Coverdell. A Sam Nunn. And, yes, a Ronald Reagan.

I recently came across his book entitled, “Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation.” One sentence from the book is seared in my brain and I had to share it with you. In the opening pages, French says, “At this moment in history, there is not a single important cultural, religious, political or social force that is pulling Americans together more than it is pushing us apart.” Let that sink in for a moment. Nobody. Nothing. Where are those that would unite us? Alas, David French sees no one. Neither do I.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of the forces pulling us apart on both sides of the political spectrum, thanks (not really) to social media rants and the tiresome threats that go with them, TV networks that shamelessly pander to one side or the other, not to mention posturing political palaverers.

We are more divided than ever and it seems to be getting worse. There is no longer a place for responsible social discourse. No middle ground. “Working across the aisle,” as responsible members of Congress once did, is now considered disloyalty and weakness and can get you defeated.

French writes, “Overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Democrats believe that their opponents are ‘hateful,’ ‘racist,’ ‘brainwashed’ and ‘arrogant.’” (I think he may have been reading my mail.) As Pogo the Possum once opined, “We have met the enemy and it is us.” Does he mean you and me? I think he does.

While we are busy fighting among ourselves and focusing on all that divides us, totalitarian states like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea circle us like wolves stalking wounded prey and just waiting on us to collapse.

I mentioned these concerns to my friend Rod Knowles, a Cobb County banker, at lunch the other day. He didn’t disagree but offered up an additional thought that he heard from Dr. Os Guinness, noted author and social critic. By the way, if the name Guinness sounds familiar, he is a descendant of the founder of the famous Irish brewery of the same name.

Guinness says, “The problem is not wolves at the door but termites in the floor.” In other words, we are slowly eating away at our own foundation because of our internal divisions. The wolves can afford to wait.

Think the Woke crowd. Proud Boys. Black Lives Matter. Antifa. QAnon. What, if anything, unites them and us as Americans? The answer? Nothing, of course. They are the divisive forces. The termites.

If we are ever going to heal the political chasm in which we find ourselves today, David French says we are going to have to demonstrate true tolerance toward each other. “Reestablishing national unity will require the bravery to commit ourselves to embracing qualities of kindness, decency, and grace towards those we disagree with ideologically,” he says. Do you hear that, Donald Trump? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Marjorie Taylor Greene? And those among us that see nothing wrong with that kind of vitriol and, in fact, encourage it? (Again, check my mail.)

“It’s time for Americans to wake up to a fundamental reality,” French says in the very first sentence in his book: “The continued unity of the United States of America cannot be guaranteed.” 

In the last sentence of the book, he writes, “We cannot simply presume our national unity will last.” He said it. I agree. You and I need to think long and hard on it. It is time to quit focusing on what divides us and look for those things that unite us. Let’s not be the termites.