America divided? You bet, and that's good.
By Charles McRaven
The hand-wringer’s political whine: “Why can’t we all just get alo-ong? Those people on the other side just keep on dividing the country. They’re so mean-spirited.”
Welcome to the history/reality of American politics. We’ve been radically divided since before we became a country. That’s right, most of the colonists didn’t want independence from England. And from the outset the Founding Fathers squared off against each other over the direction the new nation should take. And not always politely.
There was the Alexander Hamilton faction, which was convinced that only a powerful Federal government could control those independent pioneers and free-thinking, unpredictable farmers and villagers. History had convinced them that anything less than iron central muscle led to chaos.
Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, believed in local government – the less the better – and that those same potential troublemakers knew best what was good for them. Keep it local; keep it small.
We can thank both of them. And Henry Clay vs. Andrew Jackson, who continued the extremist, tug-of-war that balanced the growth of the new country. It might have been a zigzag progress, but it worked. Not until the eve of the Civil War did the Big Brother forces dominate, which is almost certainly a cause of that war. That and the manufacturers’ greed.
With their hands untied and opposition neutralized, the big government/big corporation Republican juggernaut clamped down on individual rights, mostly in the South, where the targeted canker of slavery was conveniently densest. It was to be many years before the revived Democrats could reinstate the balance. It’s ironic that these parties would have us believe they’ve actually switched sides.
This division was never low-key or even civilized. Canings and horsewhippings were common, as were riots at the polls, duels. If you were on the other side, you defended yourself.
And without the often outrageous machinations of both the Left and the Right today, we’d be a muddle of middle-of-the-road sheep getting nothing done. No, without the Tom Paines, the Hamiltons, Jeffersons, and Teddy Roosevelts, we wouldn’t even be a nation today. Maybe an outlying England still, or a sub-France (New China?), a uniform gray or beige non-world leader.
As for getting along? That really translates as, “If you’d only forget your shallow position and agree with me, we could move ahead.” Seems it’s always the offending parties who want to “put this behind us.”
Out of extremism comes progress. I love discussing and arguing with those on the other side of issues; that’s when we push each other to think. Preaching to the choir, commiserating, telling our allies how we’re right doesn’t accomplish that.
So give me your cradle-to-the-grave Socialist argument (no, it’s not just progressive or liberal). Persuade me.
And lay the Right’s feared specter of government tyranny on me (not conservatism, no: the ‘way to the right of Atilla the Hun'). I want to hear it all. The more impassioned the better. Besides, you have that right (for now).
But let’s not let this fun get really nasty. I hope we’ve come past the Sumner/Stevens bloodletting on the House floor of 160 years ago. I promise not to slash your American-job-robbing imported car’s tires, or your Bubba-built Detroit Jeeps either, just because you voted wrong.
I was dismayed (no, outraged, actually) at a public hearing on sustainability last summer. Here I was, all set to hear the Righties and the Lefties (God bless ‘em both) jerk me both ways with their respective, reasoned presentations. Packed auditorium, lots of speakers pro and con. My best friend the Ph.D. there, on the other side of the issue from me.
I was eager to be enlightened. Change my mind? Sure, if you can. Go for it.
What I heard instead degenerated into a no-holds-barred attack on the Tea Party. What? Was I at the wrong hearing? The low point of the evening was the epithet “stupid” hurled repeatedly at the government-control-fearing side, which hadn’t called any names. I’d have been just as appalled to hear the other side stoop to those tactics. The charge “mean-spirited” changed faces that night. Hey, we can be extreme, but childishly abusive?
I’m not a political party member. It’s a major cop-out to set one’s brain aside to crawl onto someone else’s bandwagon of cookie-cutter beliefs. I’m as wary of the rights-grabbing, promise-you-anything Left as I am of the stripmining-clearcutting Right.
I quote Shakespeare’s Mercutio, “A pox on both your houses.”
But I want to hear from both; I won’t fold my hands and stop my ears, either. Fifteen years ago my wife and I discovered that not one of the 10 people who worked for our company had ever voted. We got them all registered (harassment?), telling them to study the issues, the candidates’ records (ignore the speeches, the promises). Even if it meant their canceling out our own family’s votes.
After all, my best friend does that to me every election. So does my wife, upon occasion.
Charles McRaven, a writer, is a former journalism professor and restoration contractor, and is currently pastor of a church in Orange County. He lives with his wife Linda in Northwest Albemarle.