It is by now a commonplace that the nation’s voters are
acutely divided on ideological lines. One party temporarily
controls the federal government and most of the state
governments, but the other party controls the largest cities
and most of the largest states. The party now in power is
considered the “conservative” party; the other party is
considered the “liberal” party.
This circumstance has occurred with some regularity in
our political history. At the very outset, there was a strong
difference between the views of Thomas Jefferson and
Alexander Hamilton --- although the first two major parties
did not appear formally for more than a decade. The divide
between North and South then festered until the Civil War.
In the depression years before World War II, the contrasting
political philosophies hardened, and during the Viet Nam
War and its aftermath, the major parties once again felt
a greater divide between them.
Of course, each political era has its own character and its
own issues. In the national campaign of 2016, forces
within each party arose to attempt to direct public opinion
to new thinking on the populist left and the populist right.
The outcome of that election, following years of stalemate
under presidents of both parties signaled the genesis of a
political transition to directions which are not yet clear, but
the accompanying public discourse has seemed especially
bitter and polarizing, reverberating with an intensity
reminiscent of earlier periods in the 19th and 20th centuries
The notion, however, that the nation and its voters are
somehow divided in an unprecedented way is simply a media
and academic fabrication. Polar opinions about presidents
and political parties is a permanent condition of American
public life. The names change, the issues change, but the
division goes on and on.
We hear today pompous assertions that the current president
is “unfit” to hold the office. The very same word and meaning
was used against such presidents as Andrew Jackson,
Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman,
Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Somehow, despite those ominous contemporary judgments,
the republic survived their tenures. Most of them, in fact, left
an indelible political mark.
Bipartisanship is usually a good thing, but it is always
provisional and limited. At key moments, bipartisanship might
be necessary to pass legislation or make social change, but it is
always followed by a resumption of the timeless political
arguments which run through the history of any democratic
republic --- and especially ours.
We should not be fearful of admitting to, or participating in,
differences of opinion, political arguments, and divided
partisanship. They are as natural as breathing; they are the
aspiration and respiration of freedom.
It’s time to stop being obsessed with the mere fact that we
have disagreements. Instead it’s time to use our debates to
solve our problems, meet our challenges, and adapt to the
remarkable changes taking place all around us.
Vive les differences!
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.