“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” So declared Abraham Lincoln on June 16, 1858. His words were directed toward the citizens of a nation that was adamantly divided on the issue of slavery. During his day, the issue became so heated and emotional that reasonable debate devolved into anger, hatred and finally violence.
Although we do not face an issue as polarizing as slavery today, I believe we are following the same path with today's political divisions. I also believe that if we do not recognize the precarious position in which we find ourselves, we risk following a similar course to anger, hatred and violence.
Somewhere along the way, citizens of the United States began to believe that there is only one way to run this country. They began to believe that every idea outside of their prescribed method is wrong, evil and should be shouted down. They no longer had room in their hearts for opposing viewpoints or differing thoughts. This mentality is completely contrary to democracy. The only reason to have a representative form of government and democracy is if you believe that there are multiple viewpoints and ideas. If there is truly only one way of doing things in government, then a democracy is wholly insufficient. A monarchy or dictatorship would be a much more effective way to carry out a government where there is only one allowable approach to how things should be done.
Truly, a democracy cannot stand without the core understanding that ideological differences are healthy and should be celebrated and sought out, instead of shouted down. The moment that we decide if someone is a great American by whether or not they agree with us, we have lost the spirit of what America is about.
No one understood this concept better than the first president of the United States, George Washington. In his farewell address, as he was voluntarily laying down power, he described how we should view each other even in disagreement. "The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize." He went on to say that we should indignantly frown "upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts."
Washington declared that what should matter to us more than anything else is our commonalities not our differences. Yet today, we seem to decide whether or not someone is an American based upon whether or not they agree with us. Is this not the opposite of what Washington suggested?
Our first president did not stop there. He went on to suggest that those who try and divide us are the opposite of patriots when he said, "There will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands."
In fact, most of his farewell address was dedicated to warning Americans about the dangers of dividing ourselves up based upon beliefs, geography or parties. He explained why these divisions can be so dangerous: "One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection." Should we not all be bound together as Americans, not allowing differences to divide and destroy the whole?
Washington believed that those who seek to divide using party, belief or any other differences cannot be interested in the good of the whole and probably have selfish motives. While political parties may help reach certain ends, they are more often used for ulterior purposes.
Yes, we have a lot of disagreement in this country right now. But when that disagreement drives us to view fellow Americans with anger and even hatred, then we have crossed a dangerous line. It seems to me that people love freedom and representation when they get what they want. But when those with differing viewpoints manage to gain political power, we are suddenly not so keen on the idea. We must return to a place where we value and respect differences and where we seek to win through honest debate and discussion in the arena of ideas. If we continue on our current path, I believe that representation will no longer be a viable solution and this divided house will fall.
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