In 1858 Abraham Lincoln voiced what was at that time a controversial prophesy of America’s future. Reflecting on America’s division caused by slavery, Lincoln stated that “A house divided against itself cannot long endure”, a phrase attributed to Jesus in the Gospels and echoed by philosophers through the ages. Though not facing any specific issue as urgent as was slavery, today’s America is deeply divided. Can we long endure?
The causes of this division are debatable, but its reality is fairly clear. A few examples should suffice:
- 46% of Americans say things in America are going very well or fairly well while 53% say they are going pretty badly or very badly. I assume both sides accurately assess their stations in life.
- 86% of Americans believe America is more politically divided than at any other time in our history (even more divided than during the Civil War?!). What is worse, most folks don’t expect it to improve in the coming years.
- The division between rich and poor has grown to the point that today those in the top .10% possess more wealth than the combined wealth of the bottom 99%
- Economic opportunities for ethnic minorities remain elusive. According to Forbes (2016), “It would take black families 228 years to amass the same amount of wealth white families have today, if average black family wealth continues to grow at the same pace it has over the past three decades. For the average Latino family, it would take 84 years to catch up.”
- We are divided politically. In the 2016 presidential election Donald Trump received about 46.1% of the votes and Hillary Clinton 48.2%, but 42% of America’s eligible voters did not vote. Further, 28% claim to be Republicans, 25% are Democrats, and 44% are independents.
- Only 51% view the Democratic Party favorably and 47% view the Republicans favorable.
- 63% of Americans disapprove of the job Congressional Democratic leaders are doing and 50% disapprove of Republican leadership. Congress has a 19% approval rating (and I honestly wonder what that 19% is seeing that the rest of us are missing).
- 45% think President Trump is moving too fast in addressing America’s problems, 10% say not fast enough, and 35% say he moving at about the right pace.
- For 39% of our fellow citizens football is their favorite sport but only 1% claim tennis as favorite (I’m finally a one percenter!)
The list of our differences is quite lengthy. Americans are divided over hot-button issues such as abortion, gun control, environmental protection, education policy, healthcare policy, the best breed of dog (Boxers), and crunchy v creamy peanut butter (crunchy!). Is this new? Absolutely not. Our Framers were divided over state v federal power, the role of the courts, agrarianism v industrialization, and which bird should become our national symbol. We have been divided throughout our history, so what has changed?
Character (or lack thereof) and mass media. We’ve always had those who behaved in an uncivil manner or who accepted outrageous ideas but, as with today, they were the minority and we could largely ignore them because their reach was limited. Now those people have an easy voice and are willing to use it. They can disrupt social media with their repulsive ideas or snide remarks, they can spew hate because news websites open stories to comments, they can gain national media attention by staging a demonstration regardless of the cause, and they can attack others whom they’ve never met from the comfort of their living room easy chair via the internet. Because this has become pervasive, a segment of society has now seemed to accept as commonplace politicians being disrespectful to each other (and to those who do not support them), media personalities and others spreading false information which followers accept at face value, and the notion that attacking others verbally is socially acceptable.
How can we change this? One person, one civil response, one opinion based on reason and fact at a time. The pace of change may be glacial, but with this “us v them” mindset which currently divides our house, we cannot long endure.