Two realities, one problem

Back in the heady days of the George W. Bush administration, we first heard about the “reality-based community.”

It was an invention of an administration official — believed to be Karl Rove — in a quote given to journalist Ron Suskind. The official divided the world into two camps: those who create reality by their actions, and the rest, who are left only to study that reality.

I thought of that recently as the Cliven Bundy story dragged into its fourth week, and it became increasingly clear that we live in two Americas, with two very different realities.

In one reality, Bundy is a welfare cowboy who for two decades has socialized the cost of his ranching outfit by refusing to pay grazing fees while using property owned by the United States of America. In the other reality, he’s a hero for standing up to an agency of the government. In one reality, Bundy says he doesn’t recognize the federal government as even existing; in the other, he rides a horse with a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket, waving an American flag.

In one reality, the Bureau of Land Management is a group of American citizens working to preserve and protect commonly held land for all Americans. In the other, they are agents of an occupying foreign power, bent on destroying ranching operations so we all have to eat kale salad for dinner, just as first lady Michelle Obama intended.

In one reality, American citizens follow the laws their representatives pass for the common good. In another, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller says American citizens who rallied to Bundy’s cause with guns at the ready and say they’re willing to bear arms against their own government are “patriots.”

But it’s not just in rural Nevada that the divide between the realities is growing ever wider. It’s happening across the country.

In one reality, the Federal Emergency Management Agency employs the people who are supposed to come help you after a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, a flood or a tornado. In the other, they’re the guys responsible for running the secret re-education camps and directing the blue-helmeted United Nations troops and their dark olive (not black, that’s a myth) helicopters to the locations from which they’ll occupy America.

In one reality, the Environmental Protection Agency is the government entity created by Republican President Richard Nixon to ensure clean air, water and land. In the other reality, it’s an anti-corporate behemoth used to oppress hard-working businessmen who simply want to burn carbon fuels to run the machinery of capitalism unfettered by anti-pollution rules or, in some cases, a conscience.

In one reality, climate change is a very real threat to the future of human life on Earth, and something we need to work to avoid. In the other, it’s a massive global hoax designed to get us all to live in thatched-roof hovels with dirt floors, and no indoor plumbing, with more kale salads for dinner.

In one reality, Barack Obama is the duly elected president of the United States. In the other, he’s a Kenyan-born socialist designed to turn America from the halcyon days of its freedom-loving past to a giant collective working to advance the common good.

In one reality, the Constitution is a pretty wise reminder to be skeptical of human nature, divide the powers of government and keep watch over its officials, but a document whose principles can be applied to changing circumstances and new technology. In the other, it’s an unchanging manifesto that must always be understood and interpreted with the mindset of 1787 colonial America, regardless of the progress of science or society.

More and more, the first reality is at war with the second. And, as the greatest Republican president once reminded us, borrowing a quote from an even greater leader, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or

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