With notable exceptions, such as the Civil War, I believe we are living in one of the most contentious, least cohesive times in our history. And it poses serious dangers for our future. Let’s look at the evidence.
First, has there ever been a greater division in our politics? I will not romanticize the past. Elections earlier in our history were vicious. The contests, for example, between the Federalists and the Republicans in the early 1800s were nasty and brutish. But I do not remember a time in recent history in which the two main candidates for president were as negatively viewed as now. Well over 50% view both Clinton and Trump unfavorably. We are slated to have the first president in modern times who will start off his/her service with no interest whatsoever on the part of the opposition to cooperate. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/06/09/fox-news-poll-trump-drops-now-trails-clinton.html?intcmp=hpbt1
Just this past week we experienced the latest and one of the worst terrorist-inspired attacks on our own soil. This is bad enough. But what’s worse is we face the challenge very much divided. One side sees it as evidence of radical Islamic terrorism in need of a harsh and strong response. Others think greater gun control is the principal remedy to the violence. And yet others call for greater love and compassion, and less hate.
It’s not that the right approach might not consist of some of these responses. The problem, rather, is that we appear totally unable to work toward any consensus, and we don’t appear even to want to try. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/once-again-national-tragedy-drives-americans-further-apart/2016/06/12/ec6c6350-30bc-11e6-8758-d58e76e11b12_story.html?tid=pm_pop_b
Ideologically, we are deeply split. The media are as fragmented as ever, promoting our splits even more. Culturally, there is little that binds us – in the arts, in music, in literature. We seem, from many different indicators, to have lost much of a sense of history, including the essential quality of a shared sense of history.
And our resort to religion as a source of guidance, comfort, and shared ground is at an all time low.
Weakness in our society as measured by the education and economic condition of all our people is worrisome. We made progress in the 2000s in closing achievement gaps and improving the education of students, but that progress has now stalled. Our economy, though recovered considerably from the Great Recession, shows signs of serious and enduring problems that we seem unwilling or unable to address.
I am not by nature a pessimist, but I am as worried about the future of our beloved nation as I have ever been. We’ve faced problems in the past of at least as great a magnitude as those of today. But we stood closer together and were more united in doing so. That made a huge, perhaps determinative, difference. This is not to say that we are on the verge, at least yet, of civil disruption. But, rather, we largely go our own way, and it is increasingly down many separate, and often opposing paths, with increasing animosity or antipathy to others and the other side.
The history of the world teaches many powerful lessons. We would be well advised to be especially mindful of them. While this maxim does not guide us explicitly on how to get back on path, it might be a good piece of wisdom with which to begin our journey – united we stand, divided we fall.
Let’s make our first assignment a reading and understanding of the truth of the powerful fable from Aesop, The Four Oxen and the Lion. Then let’s come back together to consider all the many other things we must do to join together to strengthen ourselves against all the many “lions” that threaten our well-being and our future.