“What’s everybody so mad about?”

I was having lunch recently with one of my former high school teachers, and he asked me a question a lot of people have been asking. Americans are politically divided, yes, but except in times of extreme crisis when the nation comes together, we’re almost always politically divided. The election of 1800 was between old friends — John Adams and Thomas Jefferson — and turned out to be one of the most rancorous elections in U.S. history. What feels different today is not the political disagreements but the amount of anger attached to them. It’s not that you don’t agree with me on gay rights or gun rights, it’s that anyone who disagrees with me is a no-good sumbitch.

Fortunately, there is a solution.

We need to laugh a little more. Maybe a lot more. Take ourselves less seriously. And admit to what a bunch of stumblebums we all are.

That’s the easiest solution and my strong preference. In fact, I’m trying to practice it as part of my daily routine. When I see a car with a Tennessee tag and a ROLL TIDE bumper sticker, instead of fuming about somebody living among the Volunteers while rooting for the Red Elephants, I just laugh. I wonder if the Chinese start winning most of the gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics this summer if this guy will start rooting for the commies.

Or if I see one of those Cadillac pickup trucks or Porsche SUVs, instead of thinking what a bunch of snooty elitists they must be, I start chuckling about how surprised they’re going to be when the first load of fence posts — or bales of pine straw — they haul scratches up the bed of their fancy new truck.

For the people in the Porsche SUVs, I just roll down my window and ask them if they have any Grey Poupon.

Of course, there’s another way to pry our hands from our neighbor’s throat besides using humor. You can scare us to death. Like the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor or the terrorists did on 9/11. When Americans fear for their lives, it’s amazing how little we care about whether a person votes Democrat or Republican.

So just imagine how much good you could do for the country if you could find something that’s kind of funny and kind of scary at the same time. That would be a double-barrel boost for national unity.

Well, June might be our big chance. The Pentagon and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are preparing to release a report on unidentified flying objects. Included in the report is a video conversation between several U.S. military aviators who simultaneously witnessed an encounter with UFOs that were performing aerial maneuvers that even the next generation of military or space aircraft couldn’t come close to pulling off. It’s unlikely that any of our military adversaries are that far ahead of us, so that really leaves only one option.

The pilots were all stoned.

Only they didn’t sound stoned. In fact, they sounded as alert — and amazed — as anybody I ever heard. Which leads us to that other possibility ...

Now, tell me that doesn’t scare you just a little. Because when you consider that the closest solar system is several light years away — and that light travels at 186,000 miles per second — these beings, whoever they are, are as advanced beyond us as we are to my daughter’s pet chinchilla. Or maybe even to the crickets in my backyard.

If these things, these beings, these “extraterrestrials” turn out to be real, we better hope they are better church attenders than we are. And that they treat inferior species with more respect — and pity — than we do. And that the purpose of their mission to Earth is one of science and exploration rather than conquest or the discovery of new food sources. Hmmm ... I think I’ll have the fat-boy fricassee with a side of senior fries.

In the meantime, this might be the perfect opportunity to dust off your old copies of “ET,” “Independence Day” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Buzz Thomas is a retired American Baptist Church minister, attorney, school superintendent and longtime Blount County resident and frequent columnist for The Daily Times.

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