William F. B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.
I'm worried about the country, heading into the Fourth of July weekend. I can't remember a time since the 1970s when America felt so unsettled.
The church shooting in Charleston has a lot to do with it. But while the pain emanating from South Carolina is visceral and real, the calls to expunge all things Confederate from streetscapes feel anything but spontaneous. They came too fast. They seem too organized, like part of a planned communications strategy that's been awaiting a news hook to launch. A new front just opened in a campaign to seed discontent.
American flags are burning again on U.S. soil, including at an anti-police rally in Brooklyn on Wednesday. It's been a long time since I've seen that. Black churches are burning, too -- seven since Charleston. Each incident adds gasoline to the fire.
Supreme Court decisions last month were unsettling, too. It wasn't so much the decisions, but that some of them, like on Obamacare, didn't appear to be grounded in law. It left many feeling like the bedrock had shifted, even with an ostensibly conservative court.
The vanishing line between citizen and noncitizen is an ongoing concern. It makes the rule of law feel tenuous and discretionary. The notion of a single cultural America is disappearing, too. We are quickly losing our melting-pot identity and becoming a nation of competing demographics. The divide-and-conquer strategies of political consultancies are working.
Speech codes on college campuses are especially alarming. Future U.S. leaders are being conditioned to neither speak nor think freely. Students are paying tens of thousands of dollars to be disarmed of their principal weapons of intellectual defense, in the name of progress.
Off campus, people are letting it rip: I recently saw a not-too-crazy-looking man in front of Grand Central Terminal with sign that said, "Jews control everything. Google it." Commuters streamed around him. It was surreal.
I wonder whether I'm thinking too much or reading too many headlines. But I hear similar concerns from people everywhere. And I see a consistent polling point in my work: Americans fearing the future.
I have to remind myself that there never was a time when the nation felt settled. We've always been an imperfect stew in the making, and there have always been agitators stirring discontent into the pot during economic downturns, without much enduring success.
The American people have always been discerning enough to parse the sophistry of politics, to see beyond the day's jarring headlines. Cooler heads have always prevailed, not from politics or academia, but from working-class supper tables and the pews of churches like the AME in Charleston from which such extraordinary forgiveness has flowed.
My fervent wish this Independence Day is that the ranks of the coolheaded grow.