Much of what follows will be opinion. The historical content is not. As a citizen of a country deeply divided at least politically and probably socially, I’m dreading the outcome of the 2022 mid-term election. The results may take us further along a path I’m opposed to and which frightens me. I cannot let this pivotal election pass without stating the truth as I see it.
In our 246-year history, we have never seen such a threat to our democracy. There have been deep divisions at times. Even in the first years after the American Revolution, there were highly contested views on how to govern the new country. This Library of Congress article excerpt gives us an idea how it was after ratification of the much debated Constitution and the election of the first President. “Although Washington proved to be personally popular and respected, conflict over the proper functions and locus of governmental power dominated his two terms as president. These disputes soon led to the formation of factions and then political parties that were deeply divided over the nature and purposes of the federal government, over foreign affairs, and over the very future of the new nation. Events during the single term of John Adams, our second president, made these divisions even worse and they continued into the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809).”
America at Unrest
After the country settled down a bit, there came a period of impassioned crusade and reform. Many citizens were dissatisfied with the direction of their relatively new society. They took action to rid the states of evil, as they saw it, and to change the ways of their brethren. Some of the causes they sought improvement upon included observance of the Sabbath, abolition of slavery, women’s rights, crime and punishment, education, temperance, hours and conditions of work, poverty and care of the handicapped. It seemed people everywhere were taking up a fight of one kind or another. The 1830s and 1840s were definitely turbulent times.
Americans of European or Asian descent in the 19th century may not look at this way, but one of the disturbing and violent chapters in our history is the Indian Wars. I understand this is somewhat off-topic, but what seemed to have been a conflict of inconvenience for those settling this continent from other countries was unbelievably huge for those having their lands stolen and their culture overwhelmed. From east to west, this struggle for land went on for over 200 years and for over 100 years with the entity known as the United States. We forcibly shared this land mass and a national consciousness on some level with the Native Americans for these long periods of time. It was no trivial philosophical disagreement. It counts as unrest in America.
Then there was the War Between the States. The collision between the North and the South on how life here should be lived, especially for the Africans who were sold into slavery and their offspring, was an example on just how far social and political identification can be taken to prove who’s right. Of course, economic attachments were a factor for the rich in the South, since they felt pressure about how they could survive without slave labor. The polarization between the people of the two regions grew to such intolerable levels that secession followed. Anger boiled over into hatred and in the next four years, approximately 750,000 died in the Civil War.
Anything else pales in comparison, but it doesn’t mean the country couldn’t be torn apart again. Ideology, race, religion combined with inflammatory rhetoric can make people lose touch with common sense and decency. Prohibition in the 1920s spawned excesses and widespread crime that affected a large percentage of the population for more than a decade. World War II united us against fascism and a comfortable peace with prosperity made the generation that created them euphoric until their children rebelled against what they stood for in a fundamental and sweeping way. Rejection of war, materialism, racism, shallow thinking, intoxication of choice (alcohol) and outdated values resulted in a great deal of alienation within families and whole communities across the nation. Healing did eventually ensue as the baby boomers matured, married and materialized. Hippies turned into yuppies. I think political activists, with some exceptions, faded away or joined government at various levels.
The Uncivil War
We find ourselves at a crossroads now. The political party I respected a lot for so many years has bent to the will of a former President who seems content to tear apart his country over a lost election he refuses to let go despite no proof of his claims and who has no problem attacking people in his party who have been loyal to him to the brink of committing crimes to further his lies. The danger of crossing him is the loss of their political careers. His base has lost touch with reality and threaten our democracy. All the while, their narrative is strikingly similar to the same I just stated. Those under his spell see his enemies–anyone who doesn’t fall in step with him–as having lost touch with reality as “woke” culture threatens democracy. Both sides see the other as wanting to rob them of their freedoms as United States citizens. The derision of “woke” culture is absurd when you consider it means to be aware of racial and social injustices. These injustices have inhibited freedom of certain groups of people, many of whom are underprivileged and poor. Is the desire to help those folks actually being mocked by many who fall under those categories?
It’s the lack of understanding and the willingness to defend it with violence that bewilders and scares me. If they deem it necessary to stand up for the man who has fed all the confusion, I’m afraid they’re lost. The results of this election will reveal how close we are to the tipping point of being a nation in delusion.