America’s Next Un-Civil War
If any possible good can come from the furious partisanship and naked rage of the Kavanaugh hearings, it’s the opportunity for all Americans to take a hard look at the ugly reality gripping our government and society.
It’s a reality we like to pretend doesn’t exist. When we affirm, in the pledge to the flag, “…one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” we are not acknowledging the truth about America. That “America” has never existed. At best, the pledge is aspirational, expressing the hope of what we might, in time, become –if we can somehow find a way to reconcile the deep divisions that have worked from our very beginnings as a nation to pull us violently apart.
Consider the dilemmas the Founding Fathers attempted to balance creatively and purposefully in the Constitution:
- How should the balance of government power be vested: between the Federal Government or the separate states?
- How should the significant differences among the states in population (big states vs. small states) and economy (industrial vs. agricultural) be balanced so as to create a fair, functioning democracy?
Underpinning these functional challenges were essential moral, economic, and political questions:
- Did the unalienable rights and promise of citizenship, so eloquently expressed in the Declaration of Independence, apply equally to all Americans, regardless of race, gender, national origin, economic and social status, or were the full benefits of citizenship reserved primarily for wealthy white males?
- Should the wealth of America be managed to benefit the owners of capital or the workers who produced that wealth?
- Should America be a Republic, ruled by those same wealthy white men, or a Democracy governed by and responsible to the people, or, as many of today’s Republicans would have it, a Theocracy answerable not to the people but to God’s commandments (as the Religious Right understand them to be).
The Founding Fathers, in order to get any government at all, allowed the tragic obscenity of slavery to become law, and left the other questions largely unresolved. Women and the poor were also automatically disenfranchised as being incapable of meaningful participation in a democracy.
What the Founding Fathers brilliantly did do, however, was to create a mechanism, the US Constitution, that provided succeeding generations of Americans with a framework to continually address and hopefully resolve these dilemmas. The US Constitution, celebrating its 230th birthday, is now the oldest charter of national government in the world. Generations of Americans and their elected leaders have used it, however clumsily and at times cruelly, unfairly, and unwisely, to sustain the well-being of our nation.
But while we live in a society designed to be guided by the rule of law, at times in our history we have lost faith in that principle. One consequence of that loss of faith was the unspeakable bloodshed and tragedy of our Civil War – the decision that since we couldn’t resolve our differences through dialogue and compromise, we would do it with guns.
Another has been the rebellious insistence of disenfranchised and disadvantaged citizens – former slaves, immigrants, blue collar workers, women, and now the LGBTQ community — that the rights and benefits of citizenship – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, apply equally and in full measure to them. The other lesson of American’s history we need to keep well in mind is that those who hold power never relinquish it voluntarily. Sometimes as a people, we have to fight to claim our rights.
We are as bitterly divided today, I believe, as we were in the years leading up to the Civil War. We should not take the threat of wrenching violence casually.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump raised the possibility that gun rights supporters could take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton were elected president and appointed judges who favored stricter gun control measures. Repeating his contention that Mrs. Clinton wanted to abolish the right to bear arms, Mr. Trump warned at a rally here that it would be “a horrible day” if Mrs. Clinton were elected and got to appoint a tie-breaking Supreme Court justice. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Donald Trump said, as the crowd began to boo. He quickly added: “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Once people lose faith in their government to protect what they believe are their rights, the only remaining recourse is violent rebellion. That’s how, in fact, our nation came into being in the first place.
But no one really wins a civil war. Our Civil War preserved the Union, but at a terrible cost on both sides; and it left deep wounds that, 150 years later, have still not healed. The alternative is for us as a people to reclaim our democracy and restore it to health. The obstacle we are confronting is the unrestrained attempt by ideological extremists to concentrate power in the hands of a few – driven by the politics of personal attack and distorted truth.
The person who really was our wisest, most capable president, Abraham Lincoln, made the case conclusively: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It’s up to us to put our house in order.
On November 4, regardless of which party you usually support:
- If there are candidates who consistently resort to ads based on distorted facts, outright lies, or vicious personal attacks against their opponents, VOTE FOR THEIR OPPONENTS.
- If there are candidates clearly in the pocket of big money and their lobbyists, VOTE FOR THEIR OPPONENTS.
- If there are candidates whose campaigns are based on fear, hatred, or prejudice, VOTE FOR THEIR OPPONENTS.
- If there are sitting senators or representatives running for re-election who credibly pledge to work collaboratively with the other side for the best interests of all Americans, VOTE FOR THEM.
- If there are newcomers running for office who credibly commit to finding reasonable, sustainable solutions to the problems facing us – not just rubber stamp endorsement of radical extremist positions – VOTE FOR THEM.
- If all the candidates running in your district are self-serving politicians in it just for themselves, work locally to find and support candidates you CAN vote for with good conscience.