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Divided nation 

Last week, the bickering and deadlock in Washington seemed to be easing a bit. The House passed a bipartisan budget bill, and House Speaker John Boehner put on quite a show, lashing out at conservative groups for opposing it.

But while the bill may squeak through in the Senate, apparently most Republicans there will vote against it. And regardless of the outcome of that particular piece of legislation, the far-right conservative organizations and big donors will keep the pressure and intimidation going. Their eyes are on next year's Congressional elections and the 2016 presidential race.

The 2013 Congress has been one of the least productive in history, and based on news reports early this week, it's clear that the bitterness and stubbornness hasn't lessened. We seem to be stuck in divisiveness. If that's the case, are we about to become ungovernable? I haven't been finding much solace from political commentators.

"We justly congratulate ourselves on what the framers of our Constitution set up," the Times' Frank Bruni wrote during the October government shutdown, "but that doesn't mean we're set forevermore."

The division in Washington is simply a reflection of Americans' division. Ted Cruz didn't elect himself. And our division isn't just tied to where we live or which political party we like. We don't know one another – and we don't seem to have much interest in knowing one another. Many of us have little empathy toward people who don't agree with us, look like us, act like us.

It's tempting to consider House Republicans like Cruz a lunatic fringe. There may be a bit of lunacy in some of them, but they're not all lunatics, and neither are most of the people they represent. We are just a very divided nation.

I still can't stop thinking about an interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in New York magazine.

"What's your media diet?" writer Jennifer Senior asked Scalia.

"Well, we get the newspapers in the morning," Scalia said.

Which newspapers? "We just get The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times." No New York Times. No Washington Post. They've become too liberal.

Where does Scalia get his news? Mostly from the radio, he said, "driving back and forth to work." NPR? "Sometimes NPR. But not usually."

What, then? "Talk guys, usually."

Scalia isn't alone. Too many of us – right, left, and center – turn only to news media that reinforce our own beliefs. So we live in a bubble. And the smaller those bubbles become, the more rigid we become in our beliefs.

The obstructionism we're seeing in Washington is not an aberration, by the way – because the divisions in the country are not new. Those divisions grow out of our heritage, and they're as alive now as they were leading up to the Civil War.

"In reality," Frank Rich wrote in New York Magazine recently, "the one-third of the Republican House caucus in rebel hands and the electorate it represents are no more likely to surrender at this point than the third of the states that seceded from the Union for much of the same ideological reasons in 1860-61."

Government no longer works, Frank Bruni wrote during the shutdown – "at least not the Congress, not the way it should if we're going to strut around ceaselessly congratulating ourselves on how exceptional we are."

"We're exceptional all right," Bruni wrote, "in that we can't summon the will, discipline, or character to fix even those problems that most of us would like to see addressed."

We can't expect to people in any group to be united on everything. And we sure can't expect the people of an entire country to be united on everything. But the deep, strong division in this country is having serious effects. If we're going to continue to be able to govern ourselves, we'll have to be willing to listen to one another and respect other viewpoints. So far, I don't see much sign of that happening.

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