We have a serious Divide in our country right now, and it concerns me deeply. It seems that regardless of the outcome of this coming election, the Divide will continue, perhaps culminating in violence. This, of course, will deepen the Divide. We have painted ourselves into a proverbial corner, and I see no clear way out. Trump doesn’t help matters much. In fact, he seems to stir the pot of discontent, encouraging the very violence he purports to be against. Lately, six weeks before the election, he rants about not accepting the results, sounding and acting far more like Benedict Arnold than Abraham Lincoln. Biden is better, and I definitely recommend a vote for him and most Democratic candidates, but I don’t think his election will necessarily solve the problem. And he may not have the intestinal strength to do what needs to be done to calm the potentially violent, confrontational atmosphere after his election. White supremacist groups, which include the KKK, neo-Nazis, QAnon, an assortment of white militias, along with ultra-conservative media outlets may seize the opportunity to foment their brand of hatred upon the general public. And extreme leftist groups may resort to violence as well. Police and military forces may overreact as they already have during the George Floyd protests. Countries like Russia, China, Iran, North Korea may use cyber-attacks to widen the Divide, as they have already done to our electoral processes.
Biden who is a good and decent man, far beyond Trump in humanity, consciousness, and empathy will have an overflowing plate of the Trump-worsened pandemic and economy, along with this civil unrest. And I’m not sure how well he can handle this. But it must be him and not Trump who is in charge during this critical time in our country’s history. For Trump is not fit for this job, as concluded by his closest associates, family members, former government officials, and even an increasing number of Republicans.
Our country has been in this predicament before. During the Salem witch trials, there were people arrested just because someone pointed their finger at them and branded them a witch. There were trials that with hearsay evidence alone resulted in the execution of women and some men. During the prelude to the Revolutionary War, there were many citizens who were in favor of continued loyalty to the King of England. Tensions mounted, similar to what we are feeling today. Slavery was in full swing then as well and there was division about the morality of it, particularly after the War won by American patriots. Some of the 13 colonies, soon to be states, were profiting tremendously via the trafficking and abuse of Black human beings from Africa, along with the unconscionable breeding of slaves and the subsequent sale of their children to southern plantation owners. There were compromises when negotiating the original U.S. Constitution–compromises we would consider reprehensible today, but then were the only way some of the states would approve the document. Article one, section two of the Constitution of the United States declared that any person who was not free would be counted as three-fifths of a free individual for the purposes of determining congressional representation. The “Three-Fifths Clause” thus increased the political power of slaveholding states. Slaves were no more than chattel and goods, according to the law of the land, and their names were not listed on any legal documents–just their age and sometimes how much money they were worth. Many who objected found that abhorrent but were forced into signing off on the Constitution for the sake of agreement.
The Civil War brought all the hatred and conflict to the surface. Open warfare, that led to more deaths than all subsequent American wars combined. In 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in the Confederate states, and in 1866, the 13th Amendment freed all slaves everywhere in the United States. At War’s end, a period of Reconstruction commenced that lasted from 1866 to 1877 that attempted to help integrate freed slaves into the mainstream. But after Lincoln was murdered by a Confederate sympathizer, the motivation for that initiative waned, especially under President Andrew Johnson who tried to veto Reconstruction but was overridden by Congress. Schooling, promises of arable land, and other civil rights soon fell aside after hostile southern whites fought against Reconstruction, causing its demise. The mood was as conflictual as it is today, perhaps more so, as freedmen and women were left to fend for themselves and somehow figure out how they would live and survive in such a toxic atmosphere.
Jim Crow laws were enacted in the South, laws which separated the races and forced unreasonable restrictions onto black people making matters worse. And blacks were often beaten, tortured, tried without due process, and many lynched in front of cheering and jeering mobs. Commemorative post cards were even sold at some of these public hangings. The crimes were often minor offenses, yet the punishments were reminiscent of the infamous witch trials of yesteryear.
These horrendous conditions for blacks lasted well into the 20th century, when the civil rights movement exploded in the late 50s and early 60s. John F. Kennedy, a great hope for a more enlightened era ahead, was assassinated in November of 1963, and a dark cloud of suspicion–and depression–descended upon the nation. Civil rights protests started in the south with non-violent civil disobedience, but turned violent as a result of law enforcement overreacting. Eventually protestors combined causes with those against the Vietnam War, and violence became the norm. In April of 1968, another great hope, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated. Again, tensions mounted. Riots ensued throughout the country, much like today after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.
Since then, there was Nixon’s resignation, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Gore vs Bush fight in the Supreme Court in 2000, the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, the two elections of Barack Obama, and the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the last of which widened the Divide, perhaps more than it has ever been.
Is the great American experiment now on a downward slide as were the Roman, Greek, Egyptian, German, and Soviet experiments in times past? As then, many have lost faith in their leaders, who, in turn, being increasingly consumed with power and greed, lost sight of the basic needs and desires of the very people they led. Our economy is stagnant, mired in low-paying service jobs. Profit-driven health care, seeded by greedy Big Pharma, is proving cumbersome and inadequate in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, an aging population, the political battlefield of health insurance, and the prospect of more pandemics ahead. Trump demonstrates autocratic tendencies, bordering on fascism. His rhetoric and tweets smack of an impending coup–perhaps a violent coup, given the weaponry stockpiled by white supremacist militias throughout the country. Vitriolic and destructive conspiracy theories are rampant among part of the populace that seem like members of a cult in lockstep with their leader who happens to be the President of the United States of America.
The Divide. It is troubling. Personally, it has me off balance, not knowing what the future will bring. Not knowing if we will be forced from our comfortable home by violent, armed mobs. The Preamble to the Constitution promises, we the people are entitled to justice, domestic tranquility, security from foreign invaders, a general sense of welfare and care, and the “blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The Declaration of Independence says that all people–all people–are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The schools I attended may not have taught me everything they should have but they taught me well those aforementioned words.
Our country–all of us–needs to take a deep breath and reflect upon those words. We need to examine ourselves to see if we are honoring and living by those words.
The Divide indicates we are not living by those words. For when a black man, woman, or child cannot leave their house without threat of harassment; or a Jew or Moslem cannot be free of some act or word of anti-Semitism or xenophobia; or when a person with a mental disability or a drug or alcohol addiction has to live in misery for lack of proper treatment; or when a poor person has to choose between going to the doctor or putting food on their table; or when an immigrant–remember “give me your tired, your poor…”?–has to live in fear of separation from their family and potential deportation; or when the elderly have to live in fear of losing their health insurance and social security; then we are not living by those words, and we need to ask ourselves, why? Why are we not living by those words that could end The Divide? For if we do not end the Divide, and end it soon, we will go the way of other civilizations that went extinct, and the great American experiment will vanish, left for future archeologists to excavate and try to determine what happened as they do today with ancient digs at the sites of buried cultures.
So how to heal the Divide? And, by that, I don’t mean ending all disagreements. A democracy allows for and encourages disagreements and differing opinions. But a vital, healthy democracy only thrives when people listen to each other and come to realize their common goals. Yes, the means may differ but we Americans all want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, along with equal justice and opportunity for all. These are basic American values which have made us strong within and strong in the face of the entire world. Liberals, conservatives, moderates, progressives, Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians can live together in a true democracy. It may be messy and boisterous at times. There may be feathers ruffled, lots of squawking and strutting about, a good bit of bellyaching and caterwauling, and even some axe-grinding and excoriating. But considering the virtues of compromising and cooperating in light of the overall “for the good of the country,” consensus and agreement can be reached. I know of two simple axioms, that provide an operating manual of sorts to the Ten Commandments, in helping reach this goal and begin to heal the Divide:
*Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
*Live and let live.
(In my opinion, a fetus is, arguably, still a part of its mother, not yet a full human being. The fetus, unlike a full human being, is completely dependent upon its mother. Therefore, the mother has the right to choose what to do with that fetus in managing her own body.)
These axioms can be applied, of course, to personal and business relationships. They can be applied (especially the second) to nature, as well, such as wildlife, pets, trees, plants, the air, climate change, waterways, and oceans. And they can also be applied when deciding who to vote or. For example, does a candidate treat others as you would like to be treated? It’s hard to know how the candidate would like to be treated, unless a biography, autobiography, an interview, or a tweet reveals such information.
And does he or she live life with honesty and integrity and allow others to do so as well? Since you usually don’t know a candidate personally, you’ll need to examine their voting records, the kinds of bills they introduce or sponsor, their political ads, interviews, debates, and the tweets or other social media information they post. Not so difficult, really. Just requires a bit of reading, research, and the acknowledgement of nuance, as I have previously written about in these pages, all of which we have more time to do with the pandemic’s limitations on our daily activities.
Let me dare be so bold as to submit that those two axioms alone, if applied assiduously, could solve and resolve just about all of the world’s human-caused problems. Are you doing your bit to help heal the Divide? If so, how? Please let me know.
Gail Berlin-Grous says
Great historical perspective.. I am an optimist & hold high hopes that this time next year we will be counting many blessings.. hugs dear friend to you & Ruth.. keep on hoping that all Americans will step up & do the right thing..
Stephen Altschuler says
Deep thanks, Gail. Glad you appreciate the perspective offered by this piece. Although I’m concerned, I, too, am an optimist, and hope what you hope.
Stay well, and thrive, both of you.
Big hug, Stephen