By David Trend:
Throughout its existence the United States has shown a strange tendency to turn against itself, dividing citizens against each other with a vehemence rivaling the most brutal regimes on earth. Some have rationalized the resulting crisis of “belonging” in America as an understandable consequence of cultural diversity, economic stress, and global threat. After all, haven’t there always been “insiders” and “outsiders” in every culture? Aren’t competition and aggression wired into human nature? Or is there something peculiar about the personality of the U.S.? Could it be that prejudice is the real legacy of the “American Exceptionalism,” in traditions dating to the genocide of indigenous populations, the subjugation of women, the rise of slavery, the scapegoating of immigrants, and more recent assaults on the poor or anyone falling outside the realm of normalcy?
I discussed selected aspects of America’s divisive pathology in my book A Culture Divided: America’s Struggle for Unity, which was written in the closing years of the George W. Bush presidency. Like many at the time, I had completely given up on the idea of “common ground” amid the residue of post-9/11 reactionary fervor and emerging economic recession. Media commentators were buzzing constantly about red/blue state polarization. Opinions varied about the cause of the divide, attributing it to factors including regionalism, media sensationalism, partisan antipathy, or all of these combined. Also joining the fray were those asserting the divide was fabricated, with evenly divided elections showing most people in the middle of the curve on most issues. My somewhat contrarian view was that the “problem” shouldn’t be regarded problem at all. After all, America always had been divided––through war and peace, boom and bust. Division was the country’s national brand. But as a book about politics, A Culture Divided didn’t get to the roots or the lived experience America’s compulsive divisiveness.
Speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, President Barack Obama described America as an incomplete project––a nation caught between ideals of a perfect union and the lingering realities of their failure. While citing advances in civil liberties since the bloody apex of the Voting Rights Movement, Obama also spoke of a federal report issued just days earlier documenting structural racism and misbehavior toward African Americans by police in Ferguson, MO, where months before law enforcement officers had killed an unarmed black teenager. “We know the march is not yet over. We know the race is not yet won,” the President stated, adding, “We know that reaching that blessed destination requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth.” Continue reading “Belonging Where?”
America is big, awesome, and beautiful. We’re also divided in ways we can’t afford to ignore.
In today’s Slate: “This is not to say that the union is tottering on the brink of collapse. There are many good reasons as to why the United States has stayed intact for so long. We had the bloody Civil War some years ago, and the idea of secession has long been discredited as a result. Recent years have seen a number of peaceful secessions, such as the “velvet divorce” between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is far from obvious that the United States would be willing to use its military might to coerce Hawaii or Alaska from leaving the union if, for whatever reason, their electorates were determined to do so. So I doubt that it is the threat of chaos and violence alone that keeps us together.
“The United States does not have linguistic divisions that map relatively neatly onto geographical divisions, which helps dampen secessionist sentiment. Yet there is no question that the differences in the cultural sensibilities of, say, the Deep South and the Pacific Northwest are far greater than the differences between Ontario and America’s neighboring Great Lakes states. A few wild-eyed dreamers have thus wondered if we’ve necessarily divvied up North America in the right way, from environmentalists dreaming of an “Ecotopia” west of the Cascade Mountains to white nationalists looking to build an Aryan ethnostate in northern Idaho and Montana. George Kennan, the renowned foreign policy thinker and all-purpose crank, fantasized late in life about a fragmentation of the United States not unlike that which befell the Soviet Union.
“Could America break apart along religious lines, with devout Christians going one way and the rest of us going another? Think of the old “Jesusland” meme—the map of a North America divided between “Jesusland,” the states that backed George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, and “the United States of Canada,” consisting of the states that backed John Kerry and Canada that delighted liberals enraged by Bush’s re-election. At least some devout religious believers fear that as the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated grow, and as secular Americans insist on imposing their values on others, the faithful might face persecution. In 2000, Father John McCloskey, a conservative Catholic with a polarizing reputation, penned a controversial fictional take on how America might break apart. In it, a new religiously infused country, the Regional States of North America, secedes from the United States in the wake of a “short and relatively bloodless conflict” with their secularist oppressors.
“Fortunately, good sense usually prevails. Way back in March of 2012, Vice President Joe Biden, he of the loose lips, told an audience at Iowa State University that the Obama administration had “screwed up” the first version of its contraception mandate by failing to provide some accommodation for religious nonprofits that wanted no part of it. Yet the president did eventually accommodate religious nonprofits. And though the White House didn’t want to extend this accommodation to companies like Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court intervened to suggest, gently, that if the accommodation worked for religious nonprofits—that is, if the goals of the contraception mandate could still be achieved without forcing these organizations to do something they’d prefer not to do—it could work for closely held private companies. Rough-and-ready compromises like this one are why McCloskey’s nightmare vision will never come close to coming to pass.
Continue reading “Divided America”
Picking up on a theme popularized by Al Gore, President Obama recently criticized media journalism for
promoting an “assault on reason” and for contributing to a divided culture.
“The U.S. news media typically applies hackneyed or partisan templates to political issues, often distorting rather than informing the public debate,” reports GlobalResearch:
“President Barack Obama has become the latest politician to put his toe in the raging waters of the media debate, with some mild observations about the powerful role that media outlets play in reporting – and often distorting – political events.
In an interview with The New Republic, Obama stated the obvious: ‘One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates Continue reading “Obama points to assault on reason”
Talk about crazy. In the wake of recent elections, movements are sprouting up in states throughout U.S. to truly make the country the “divided states of America.” According to the conservative Daily Caller, brand-new succession movements have now begun in dozens of states, including Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota
As the Daily Caller reports, “Conservatives have voted more than 375,000 times since Election Day to pick up their marbles and go home. That’s how many virtual signatures appeared Monday night, as clocks in Washington, D.C. chimed midnight, on petitions asking President Barack Obama’s administration to allow 47 of the 50 U.S. states to secede from the country.” Continue reading “Dozens of new secession movements”
“We live in an era of democratic contradiction. As the Cold War recedes into history and the apparent triumph of liberal democracy spreads around the globethe domestic state of democracy within the United States remains in jeopardy,” writes David Trend in A Culture Divided: America’s Struggle for Unity. Echoing sentiments expressed in last night’s acceptance speech by Barak Obama, an excerpt from A Culture Divided follows below:
Rather than a nation where citizens feel empowered in their common governance, the U.S. has become a land of where growing numbers of citizens feel alienated from the democratic process. Voter turnout for the 2012 U.S. presidential election was nearly 20 percent less than in 2008. Massive anti-incumbency Continue reading “One Nation: Divided or United?”