Today’s Courier Herald Column:
It’s early on a Tuesday morning in December of 2011, and as usual, my twitter feed is filled with a couple of people debating the pressing issue of the day. Today’s issue is the legitimacy of the Civil War. It did cause me to re-check the calendar again. Yep, it’s still 2011.
151 years ago today, South Carolina became the first of the Southern States to secede from the union. I will not bother to recap the debate I’m observing, nor attempt to explain or defend the reasons that ultimately led to the American Civil War beginning that following April. This will be left to historians and various people who like to debate with tweets during their morning coffee.
Just over one month from now, President Barack Obama will stand before a joint session of Congress and say the following: “The state of our union is strong.” It seems to be the required sentence that Presidents include in the State of the Union address regardless of the strains which currently face the nation, internally or externally.
“Strong” has been a somewhat relative term over the country’s history. Clearly there were severe challenges to the bonds that tied us together during the sixties. It was a time when brother fought brother as the states divided against each other.
The challenges we face today, at least on the surface, are not as severe. But the divisions among us are also not as clearly and neatly defined by geography. Our political process now seeks to divide instead of unite, pitting neighbor against neighbor. We differentiate among race, religion, gender, income, and any other dissimilarity that can be exploited for political purposes.
The presence of technology has been able to bring people together in ways that would have never been envisioned 151 years ago. Cable news now broadcasts 24 hours a day on multiple channels, and the internet connects all people instantly across all continents. Yet instead of unifying us, we seem to be connecting those with like minds while shunning those whose opinions differ from ours.
Those 24 hour news stations now come in various flavors that seem designed to reaffirm rather than inform. The “facts” of news events are generally presented and accepted in the form of spin. Elections are now conducted as if the candidates were participating in a reality TV show. Civic roles and responsibilities take a back seat to attacks and personal scandal. And then we wonder why we end up with many of the elected officials we have. Or why others won’t run and subject themselves to this process.
We blame those we elect for the current state of gridlock in government, but refuse to accept that we still have a representative government. Our government is us. The sharp divide in Washington, at least at some level, reflects a sharp divide that we maintain as a people. There is reason to question if the state of our union really is, as stated, strong.
We have an electorate which refuses to allow substantive cuts to even the most trivial of government programs, but continues to demand tax cuts to starve funds from these programs. Those who call for tax increases are clear and unified on exactly one point: Those tax increases need to be on someone else.
Class warfare is an over-simplified term to explain a basic point. We have become a country that wants things, but we want someone else to pay for them. And the exploitation of this fact is used daily to continue to divide us against ourselves.
We have a pledge to our flag, which is actually a pledge to ourselves as a country. In it, we pledge to be “one nation, under God, indivisible”. Traditionally, this is said with our hand over our heart.
More of us need to take that right hand, and extend it to those with whom we disagree. For if we are to remain a united people with a union that is strong, we must actively seek to remind ourselves why we are similar and better understand our differences.