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Against a Dalton farm’s typically pastoral backdrop, the flames of division have ignited in the Berkshires. It has been a dark year for the United States of America, replete with widespread social unrest amid a tempestuous backdrop of public health crisis and pugilistic politicking. Before last week, one could be forgiven for thinking that, at least here in our fair county, perhaps the worst of the nation’s pathological polarization would not manifest so malignantly. After the suspected targeted torching of an endorsement display on Holiday Brook Farm, however, that hope unfortunately appears unrequited.

A 49-year-old Dalton man is set to appear in court after being arrested in connection with the blaze that claimed several of the farm’s hay bales and ominously illuminated the Dalton sky Friday night. Before they were evidently purposefully lit, the hay bales had been arranged and painted to spell out a message: “Vote USA Biden Harris 2020.”

High-profile electoral cycles often stir people’s emotions. Yet one can hardly imagine a more quintessential example of this particular election year’s perverse permutations: Someone sees a neighbor’s endorsement message, takes issue with it and apparently thinks the best way to rebut it is to set it aflame.

It should go without saying that, regardless of what the message was on those hay bales and which candidate it supported, resorting to wanton destruction is always wrong, full stop. The fact that such an anodyne display immediately receives this sort of reaction shows how polluted our sociopolitical environment has become. Is this really the country we have become, where our ability to civilly disagree is so stricken that even small-town disputes over political proclamations are settled not with good faith and debate but with accelerant and flame?

Dicken Crane, Holiday Brook Farm’s owner, has remained positive in the days after the fire, expressing gratitude for an outpouring of community support and even rebuilding the farm’s hay bale display with a more nonpartisan message: “Love Unity Respect.”

“We don’t want to spread division, we want to unify people,” Mr. Crane told The Eagle Saturday before putting up the new message.

While a GoFundMe was quickly established by community members to compensate the farm for its lost silage, Mr. Crane encouraged giving not to his farm but to the American Civil Liberties Union’s anti-voter suppression program. “There is a lot of need out there greater than ours. We really appreciate how people are feeling, and we’re going to channel it where it can do the most good,” he said Monday morning.

While the circumstances that have forced Mr. Crane into the position of being a model for unity are troubling and unfair, his resolve is exemplary of the kind America needs right now. In this instance, first and foremost the victim was Holiday Brook Farm, but they were simply the latest, most visible local casualty in a larger tragedy that afflicts us all: a deeply polarized country buckling under despair and anxiety. That it spilled onto the farmland of a quiet Berkshire town shows that the adverse effects of these societal ills can spread like wildfire anywhere.

Acknowledging the deranging effects of this polarizing climate does not absolve anyone of responsibility — in fact, it tasks us all with fighting it. No one who fans the flames of this incendiary national moment is blameless — whether it’s the president or a protester-turned-rioter or a neighbor with a political ax to grind. We the people, as individuals and as a community, all have a patriotic duty: When faced with this division, we must resist giving in to it.


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