Constable: Divided Americans still driving together across common ground

As my wife and I throw one small suitcase into our Prius for a quick trip to see good friends in Nashville, Tennessee, we have a lot more emotional baggage to bring with us.

"Roe Overturned," reads one front-page headline.

"A Conservative Supermajority May Be Just Getting Started," reads another.

Another sums up the situation with, "Ending One Fight and Starting Another in a Polarized America."

The latest on the disturbing Jan. 6 hearings gets a little box in a corner. A few pages into the newspaper is where the battle over gun control plays out. Then there's the latest on immigration, the pandemic and vaccines, climate change, inflation, gas prices and Election Day. All of which fuel political battles and online taunts in a divided America.

Lots of us care deeply about all those issues, and we vow to elect politicians who feel the same way we do. As a progressive, a liberal, or whatever label affixes itself to me, I'm looking forward to electing my peers. Conservatives, Republicans, NRA members and abortion opponents plan to cancel out my votes by electing their peers.

But as divided as we are, we Americans aren't always battling.

Some blame President Joe Biden for high gas prices and don't care that others say the blame rests with the war in Ukraine and greedy companies. But we all apparently aren't letting our opinions and the high prices keep us home as we celebrate our nation's independence.

The July 4 weekend travel volumes "continue to trend upward with no sign of slowing down," says a report Monday from AAA. "Despite record-high gas prices, AAA forecasts 2.4 million Illinoisans will take a holiday road trip - the most on record, dating back to 2001."

So we've got "hitting the road" in common.

My wife and I drive nearly eight hours, which still is a shorter trip than some American women must drive to get health care, from our home in "blue state" Illinois, where 57.5% of people voted for Biden. We pass through the "red states" of Indiana (57% voted for Trump) and Kentucky (62.1% voted for Trump) before we reach Tennessee (60.7% voted for Trump).

But a look at those numbers reminds us that things aren't as simple as red and blue. In Illinois, more than 4 in every 10 voters selected Trump, and our state is home to millions of people who want less control over guns and more control over women's bodies. The red states have plenty of blue people, as well.

We drive through Terre Haute, Indiana, in Vigo County, which voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. We sigh in disappointment as we drive by prominent gun stores, and cheer as we pass a couple of women protesting in favor of abortion rights. The people in the car behind us might be doing the exact opposite.

On a two-lane road in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, we see a rainbow pride flag hanging from a house near another flying a Trump banner. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell calls himself the "Coal Champion" and fights Democratic environmental efforts, but Henderson, Kentucky, is the proud home of the John James Audubon State Park, named in honor of the famous naturalist, artist and ornithologist.

A driver parked at the motel where we stay shelled out money for a spare tire cover spouting his obscene political view of Biden. And my wife and I take comfort in noting that his cooler completely covers the word, "Brandon," leaving him with a message that reads simply, "Let's Go" above a U.S. flag.

We read a study saying vaccines prevented 20 million COVID-19 deaths worldwide, and that there would have been 11,047 fewer deaths if all adults in Tennessee had gotten vaccinated, but we are the only people wearing masks when we stop in Tennessee to grab food to eat in our car. Regardless of how they feel about our masks, everybody treats us politely. We tip well, even though we have no idea if our server will donate the tip to Planned Parenthood or put it toward an AR-15.

We have a lot in common for a divided nation on the move this Independence Day. Where we are headed depends on how many of us value our right to vote.

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