We are a nation divided, and that division continues to deepen.

In December of 2016, I wrote about how divisive the presidential election had been. I wrote that we should listen to each other with respectful conversations in an attempt to better understand each other. I said that it was possible for us all to find common ground, even if we didn’t agree on everything.

But that was an overly optimistic opinion. The partisan rhetoric has gotten so extreme that objective truth is under constant attack. We all live in the same country but we live in vastly different realities.

We are in the midst of the worst pandemic in over one hundred years. The novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, infects, spreads, and kills humans no matter what they believe.

Facing a common threat in the past has brought Americans together. But since the virus was first recognized as a global threat in early January, it has been politicized to the point that the advice of experts is undermined and everything is filtered through a partisan lens. Government response has been inconsistent, slow, and ineffective. And the blame game is rampant. Rather than uniting the country, the president blames the growing crisis on Democrats, the press, the W.H.O., medical experts, or whatever scapegoat he finds for the day. Political pundits exacerbate the rhetoric with breathless, non-stop commentary.

The divisiveness will only make things worse. Instead of focusing on what must be done to continue to flatten the curve, calls for a relaxation of social distancing are ramping up. Protests are claiming an infringement on civil liberties and railing against government restrictions, turning the focus of efforts away from public health and instead casting the pandemic response as government overreach.

Yet the virus continues to spread and kill.

The political divisions in this country aren’t new, but they are being weaponized with surgical precision. In 2016, Russia used an extensive campaign of social media disinformation to divide Americans. Although there is little evidence that election data itself was hacked, pitting Americans against each other leads to a breakdown in our trust in government, which in turn leads to an erosion of our ability to unite as a nation. Efforts to undermine the 2020 election are already happening.

Even without foreign influence, the increasingly partisan rhetoric divides rather than unites. Too many of us amplify that rhetoric with “gotcha” memes and Facebook posts that portray half the citizens of this country as the enemy. Is the hatred so deep that we have lost all ability to work together for the common good? Do we really believe that our neighbor is the enemy?

Democrats are not the enemy of the United States. The media is not the enemy of the people. We are all Americans. Those who believe that only they are the true patriots, that those who disagree with them are the enemy, are the most un-American. E pluribus unum.

If we don’t learn to recognize the weapon of division being used against us, we will never be able to defend against it. We must stand together, or we will not only fail in fighting this pandemic, but the future of this nation is in jeopardy.

Ted Miller grew up around the world but now lives in Richland with his wife. He’s a runner, actor, singer, nuclear engineer, and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. Ted believes that if more people worked toward love and understanding instead of giving in to fear and divisiveness, the world would be a better place.