In June of 1858, Abraham Lincoln won the candidacy for the Republican Party in the Presidential race. He addressed over a thousand people that evening with a now famous speech that, in part, spoke of the rift caused by slavery. He quoted the bible: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
A hundred-fifty years have passed since Appomattox, and we seem to have come full circle. South Carolina is once again the center of controversy (the recent shootings in Charleston were, figuratively, a stone’s throw from Fort Sumter), and the ignominious face of racism has been unmasked, once more. We’re still dealing with the shame and arrogance of the Confederate flag, economic and political issues divide the nation, and terrorism runs rampant throughout the country as it did in the decades leading up to the Civil War. In the 1830s, there were upwards of 115 riots in the then major urban centers, and reports of lynchings were commonplace.
How sad is it to discover that we have learned nothing? For all our advances in medicine, technology, and science, we are still standing on the same foundation of the house that burned to the ground in the most catastrophic domestic war in our history. The Ku Klux Klan, formed in the aftermath of that war, during the so-called Reconstruction, still wreaks havoc. Its influence has spawned more than a dozen other white supremacist organizations, which are just as guilty of radicalizing our young minds as ISIS is.
Historically, I’m amazed that other, stronger nations of the period, like France or England, didn’t capitalize on our weaknesses then and attempt to absorb our nation into their empires. We may not be so fortunate the next time around. China and Russia are both posturing with imperialistic intent, both militarily and economically, and we are insolent enough to assume that we can withstand all-comers.
To borrow a quote from economist, John Maynard Keynes: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” So how do you eradicate the truly pervasive and deep-rooted notions of racism and prejudice? You can’t undo the teaching of hate, you can’t legislate against it, civil wars don’t eradicate it – in fact, it probably exacerbates it, and you can’t go around shooting people who stand at the root of it all, though the temptation to do so might be appealing. Unfortunately, that would put all of us in the same category as Dylann Roof. Don’t laugh, Charles Cotton, moron extraordinaire and board member of the NRA said that if more people carried guns, nine people might not have died in Bible study class. I kid you not!
Racism is but one of many divides in our country. Politics, always a detestable and unpalatable subject, has practically unraveled to the point of political civil war, and any unifying force seems as remote as the Andromeda galaxy. If a Democrat says the sky is blue, the Republicans will pronounce it will ruin the economy. Economics: Republicans, Super PACs, and the 1% on the right; Democrats, the dwindling middle class, immigrants, and the common American on the left. How are you going to solve that one? I don’t even want to think about the Tea Party. Gays vs anti-gays, blacks and Jews vs white supremacists, Bible-thumping creationists vs the scientists, war-mongers vs the isolationists, union vs non-union, humanitarian aid vs ‘it’s not my problem’ types, or pick any other one you want, the list is inexhaustible.
Is leadership the answer? Right now, there appears to be only two voices out there that seem to make any sense: The Pope and Bernie Sanders. Since the former isn’t eligible for the presidency on any level, this leaves Mr. Sanders – who could possibly take the Republican Party seriously at this point. It’s a long road to next November. I’m not sure if leadership will help since whoever is elected will be hated by virtually fifty percent of the people.
In a recent post on racism, I said the only solution to curbing that problem lies within each of us, individually and the choices we make. I lack the faith that this notion will work in practice for the legion of problems we face. Meanwhile, I hear the timbers around me starting to crack inside my divided house. Anyone out there know a good carpenter? I can imagine someone making the corollary that Jesus was a carpenter. Well, if the guy was as good as so many people believe he was, then this might be a good time for him to make a pit-stop.
Diversity is the cultural norm of the United States, and the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion, but there is a price. Diversity is the root of all conflict. It sparks the fuse of superiority and entitlement and explodes in a miasma of hate.