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.

28 comments

Ok - you can't start out with stuff like this: "America divided? You bet, and that's good." and "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."

And then whine about this:
"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"

Either celebrate the mosh pit or don't. Just having your own personal refereeing rules for what counts as welcome debate doesn't work at all.

The only issue I have with the current state of discourse is that it is akin to two people arguing over whether we should fix the hole in the boat or bail out the water, all the while the boat is still sinking.

Good analagy Bill. And we are the passengers who elected these two idiots. Once a year we, the general public should have an up or down vote to keep or fire our elected leaders. Two or six years is to long to have to live with a mistake.

Exactly which, of the myriad problems facing us today, can be sorted out in 1 year?

What Mr. McRaven fails to point up is, while the US has thrived on dissonance and discourse, there is a very ugly undertone between the factions that I have not witnessed in our republic since the darkest days of the 1960s.. And in many ways these times are much worse. There is no compromise and everyone thinks their view is absolute, regardless of how illogical it is. Pure hatred abounds over the slightest differences, and the only solution in the minds of many, is for the other side to just go away and die. This intractable pall is the extreme of the American experiment. We've been there before, back in the 1850s, and although the issues were different from today, the visceral feelings expressed are as much at home in our time as they were then. And we all know what the outcome was. It is a sad and unfortunate reality that the times we are at our most unified, and less prone to petty differences, (such as skin color and economic status) is when we are united against a common foreign enemy. Soldiers under fire are the most socially evolved, if one overlooks the act of killing an enemy. You defend to the death the person to your left and right, regardless of who or what he is.

But tell it to Pat Tillman before you light up.

Gern is correct, the people come to together through a common goal however more often than not this is through conflict, i.e. the War of Independence, the Civil War, Indian wars, the second world war, segregation etc. What is astounding is that the values and vision that were fought for to create the nation are no longer true.

To see corruption at every level, spying on its own citizens, the level of violence, paying to live through extortionate costs of health car, gun crime rampant everywhere, gang rule, bankrupt cities, and the ‘no-go’ areas that are becoming more widespread it makes you shudder to think of the future.

It makes you think if Independence had not taken place how much more stable would the country be today, I'm sure it would not be any worse?

Here's the thing, the "Clay-Jackson push and pull" did not "balance the country." Read Richard's, 'The Slave Power' to learn of the progressive smothering of the country in a Big Brother program of universal African Slavery. The Democratic Party crushed dissent through a cynical manipulation of Federal patronage gifts. Congress was bought and sold AND guys like Senator Hammond (SC) bragged about the state of affairs to a Congress shorn of Whigs, as the Party had tried to play fair against a tide of militant Absolutism; a praising of a mono-polar, uni-party interpretation of the 'Original Intent' of the Founding Fathers. Read how the Governor of Missouri promised to help the militia/rifle clubs invade Iowa to smite the Free-Soilers gathered at Iowa City. Read the promise of Alexander Stephens (The CSA V.P.) to capture the National Treasury in Washington and turn its military mite on the North. (And then Mexico, Cuba and Central America.) 300 anti-slavery Unionists were lynched in the South between 1800 and 1860. Three men in Arkansas were hung for possessing a copy of Hinton Helper's impassioned warning to his South, to disavow secession, published in 1857. The secessionist leaders bragged about their intent to link their leading families to European Royalty.
By the way, the U.S. did have to fight England in the Civil War, in the form of boatloads of powder and ammunition, and diverted troops to Louisiana to dissuade the French from coming over the Rio Grande.
Sound like a bunch of poor, picked on individualists?
Incidentally, I love the idea of a National Bank compared to the Federal Reserve rip-off. Three cheers for Hamilton who stood up for National Sovereignty. Boo on the local 'Agrarian' war-loads who wished to open the doors wide to their Soul Brothers in London, Paris and Vienna.

James Simcoe... you left out the part about the north requiring all southern ships going to Europe having to pass through New York for a tarrif. So the south had to push their slaves harder to subsidize the abolishinists

Two (or ten) sides to every story....

Indeed, its all multifaceted. In fact, New York always was a hot-bed of 'Hard Shell' sentiment regarding slavery, regularly delivering up compliant Congressmen per the rich rewards of federal patronage; hence the Breckenridge vote in 1860 and the 1863 Draft and Race riots, as the '63 riots in the South were Bread AND Union themed.
As you know, Abolitionists were few and far between in New York, and among the Bankers and Industrialists, They were mobbed and beaten, even in New England.
Of course, to participate in republican democracy, a willingness to renounce all claims to Western Territory as slave states would have created a mighty alliance towards pro-southern tariff policy policy, which was modified anyway in 1857.
The Delta became a womb for millionaires, in 19th c dollars. can't send a little dough towards a mixed economy where the tariff benefits them, as well? How much cash was spent retrieving runaways?
Fund the Abolitionists? The ones who drove so hard to get rid of 'their' cash cow, that Garrison wished for a new Constitution up to '63 as he couldn't see and end to it; the cheat of the 3/5ths provision seemed to be an insurmountable barrier. Frederick Douglass talked him out of it.

James, you are accurate in your facts but I think you are too far into the weeds. The simple fact is that in America we have lost the basic premise of righrs and responsibilities going hand in hand.

We have rich people who feel they have the right to make money but no responsibility to keep the cow that they are milking healthy.

We have people getting free milk who feel no responsbility to actually do any milking or cleaning up after the cow.

Those who are sharing in the milking and mainataince of the cow and barn are mad at one or the oher or both.

When we can strike a balance between the rich and the poor things will settle down. It is not either or.

James,

Hamilton was no friend to American sovereignty due to his opinion of the public debt being a "blessing". His overarching faith in government over society puts him squarely in the camp of the same mindsets that we see in Krugman, Obama, Cheney, Bush and other champions of The State over the individual.

Hamilton spoke some nice words but never backed them up with his actions. To be honest, Burr did America a great favor in taking Hamilton out of the picture for us.

Springy Thingy,

Sorry but that totally and completely misses the point Hamilton was trying to make. His point was that our status as a sovereign nation was reinforced if other, more established nations were willing to lend us money. Put simply, our ability to carry public debt was proof positive that we were ready to play with the big boys on the world stage.

As to Mr. McRaven's editorial, it's so confused I don't even know where to start. Not as confused as you, Springy, but pretty darn confused nonetheless.

To be honest this editorial struck me as incoherent. Stick to preaching, sir.

Common sense-

Since the US went with Hamilton's vision instead of Jefferson, how's it worked out? We're sitting pretty with that blessing of a debt, ain't we?

The confusion seems to lie in the fact that people are unable to discern their own best interests.

Dear Springy, Our current debt consists primarily of the bill for two concurrent wars of occupation fought at the same time, i.e., Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush put them on a credit card, which includes all those no-bid contracts served up to Haliburton, et al.
As far as the employment of TJ's Agrarian vision, lets take a look at one of many debt crises of 'land-jobbing' (which means 19th c real estate speculation.) In the book, 'Plundering Generation,' we discover that Texas officials, angling for statehood wished for the Federal Government to bail out a collapsing bubble; even Henry Clay dabbled. This to the tune of $20m. This figure was so controversial that the Congressional Agrarians shelved the question of emergency bail-out until the rules for admission of new States could be circumvented. 10m was the final tally.
What I have discovered is that one of the pillars on which the nascent Republican Party was built was mass defection of Democratic politicians and voters sick to death of this nations' first and longest lasting ponzi scheme.

Today's Hamilton is Chairborg Bernanke, happily bending the American citizen over a barrel so every scumbag kleptocrat and aristocrat can have turn. Or maybe

You won't ever find me defending Jefferson. He was another dirty Statist that blathered on about Liberty while taking the liberty of others so he could pursue whatever it was he was trying to do.

But compared to Hamilton, Jefferson was freakin' Buddha.

Hamilton gave us the crazy notion that a strong Federal government and a national debt was a boon of some kind. Combine this with Hamilton's lack of ethics in blending the public and private spheres (no matter his words, actions count) and voila! - America 2013.

Jeffersonian/Hamiltonian, Republican/Democrat, Liberal/Conservative...all false paradigms that support the power of the State over the Right of the individual.

Liberty before Power is my paradigm.

"The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians."

-George Orwell, 1948

Only one solution..................BRING THE FUNK!..................CUZ,,,,,
.................We've Got To Tear The Roof Off!!^^?<<>>?+=........
This here mudda nowwwwbowwow!. Ugh. (Do not fake the funk.)
P.S. Even Jefferson and Hamilton can shake that thing.
P.P.S. George Clinton to Preside over our new Parliament of the United Delic of Amurica for Allbaby!! peace. out.

Just to note: when push comes to shove, avowed Statists have no choice but to act like fools.

Just to note: There's nothing foolish about liking Billy Cobham. Expecting to hear his best work on a Michael Brecker album is a different story.

And God loves his fools, because the music was about ONELOVE, undivided, which is Intelligence, Perception of the Source of all...."for all your wisdoms shall be made as naught."
Just how you have the answer to anything when you always have a perfect reason to find a wall of separation between you and everything else. A wall that exists in your mind and nowhere else. It is foolishness to divide the Universe into two camps. Does it have to come down to an insult?
I follow the Middle Path..."Let your eye be single." That is what I avow.
There is no 'State', there is also a 'State,' and nothing phenomenal can just be erased, therefore how shall we proceed?

"That was a fancy statement. Let's go take a hike"

-Saint Nicholas (paraphrase)

It's a bummer to meet people who go out of their way to show you - in the first 5 minutes - that they embrace one basket of political beliefs or another. Those are the people who want to talk about these things the most, but yet you already know everything they believe anyway.

Another unfortunate thing is the presumption that in order to be considered sane or approachable, you must have nothing but diluted and shoulder shrugging opinions about everything and be "in the middle." I prefer people with strong beliefs on various issues that can swing way left or right depending on THE ISSUE. Being able to defend each is a definite plus, of course.

Bill Cobham was smart enough to flee the US and live in Switzerland. He's not a dirty Statist.

Might want to add "professional poseur" to the writer's curiculum vitae.
So another member of "Free Union's "perpetratin' brigade" weighs in on the big divide in America...
Huge big yawn for this one.
As a member of the "worst generation", I'm embarrassed by the credence given the likes of Charles McRaven over the years.

Thank you Angel Eyes!
I'd use my name except for the roving, unemployed, heavily-armed clan of Free Union-area crazies.

I could be a fan of Angel Eyes - except that s/he didn't actually say anything - like nothing at all. S/he was apparently bored by this piece thinks the author is a "professional poseur" and is "embarrassed" that this person is taken seriously.

But that doesn't say anything about why. It's just empty negative b . s. which makes it worthless.