Milton said, "Why does everyone write about how much the world hates America, and no one writes about why Americans hate each other?"

"I was thinking about it," I said. "Why do you think they do?"

"I can't blame it all on President Bush, but the hate factor in the country was raised to a new high when he said it was politically correct to do it."

"How so?"

"Hating fellow Americans didn't become serious until Bush decided to invade Iraq. Then both sides came out of the closet. The conservatives said war was a dandy idea, and the liberals said it was a lousy one. When it was discovered that there were no weapons of mass destruction, which was the reason for going to war, the liberals attacked the president. The conservatives called the antiwar people traitors."

"That was strong language," I told Milton.

"Adding gasoline to the fire were the 'elite' media (the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and New York Times), which editorialized that we got into a lousy war and didn't know how to get out.

"Commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh," Milton continued, "told Americans to hate the liberals. It was a sure-fire way of getting ratings."

"I hate O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh," I said, "because they hate me."

"But what is really tearing the country apart is God," Milton said. "Every group insists they know what God wants for America. People are fighting over the Pledge of Allegiance in the schools, the Ten Commandments on government property and whether Americans came from Adam and Eve or from monkeys."

"I thought we settled that years ago," I said.

"So did most Americans, but the theories kept popping up," Milton said. "Things really got ugly when the religious right said if you don't believe in Jesus then you are going to Hell.

"Evangelicals are now going all over the country asking -- no, demanding -- that everyone be born again. The worst example is the U.S. Air Force Academy, where the cadets are asked to pledge their lives to Jesus. No one knows what blue skies they will fly into once they graduate.

"Everything has a religious background. The right-to-life people are against stem-cell research, abortions and condoms. They are for guns, the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association.

"One of the major issues is same-sex marriage. The right opposes it, and the left, who couldn't care less, says, 'Get off my back.' "

I said, "Isn't it now true that members of Congress really hate each other?"

"It's worse than ever. There used to be civility in both houses. They once threw buns at each other. Now they throw rocks."

"I guess they can't pick a judge now without getting mad," I said. "Are all these issues political?"

"No," Milton replied. "They're personal. Americans are not born to hate, but it's taught to them at an early age, and once you learn it, you never let it go."

"Tell me this. Do the French hate Americans as much as we hate each other?"

"It's a close call, but we're catching up to them. I could go on and on listing the causes why there is so much animosity among Americans, but it won't do anyone much good.

"All I know is, I'm right and they are wrong -- and I'm certain they'll go to Hell before I do."

(c) 2005, Tribune Media Services