Intensifying political rifts reveal much about the nation’s condition.
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Abraham Lincoln spoke plainly: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Yet this is how the United States looks today. Sharply divided. Split on a myriad of issues. The nation seems unable to understand the direction it is going as it braces for its most divisive election.
But Lincoln had more to say in his famous Senate nomination acceptance speech quoted above: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
While the context for his 1858 speech was slavery, his message fits the United States today as much as it did a century and a half ago. Were Lincoln speaking about the 2012 presidential campaign, his words might well include, “I believe this government…”
Lincoln would likely add, “I do not expect the U.S. to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
For a “true blue” liberal, this would be music to his ears: “A left-wing president, Senate and House of Representatives, all walking arm-in-arm, all pushing the same agenda. Finally!”
Likewise, for a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, it would seem equally attractive: “A truly united government pushing the ideals and values to which I hold true. Fantastic!”
That is, unless it was the opposite political side that became the “all one thing.”
The vehement division of the mid-1800s proved Lincoln’s words. America did become “all one thing.” Yet this was the result of a horrific civil war that ended with hundreds of thousands of casualties. Without bloodshed, the country simply was unable to agree!
Today’s divided political players should learn from this lesson of history. The U.S. may not have yet come to citizens bearing arms against one another, but the nation is inextricably divided, with the seeds of hostility appearing nationwide.
As it was during Lincoln’s time, the country today is not sure where it stands. Disagreement abounds. Politicians cannot work together. Citizens vehemently hold to their viewpoints and denigrate the opposition at every turn. The nation is rushing headlong toward political conflict, unable to agree on any issue—how to handle debt, unemployment, taxes, gun control, healthcare or religion.
In his book Our Divided Political Heart, Eugene Joseph Dionne Jr., a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution think tank and Washington Post columnist, wrote: “Underlying our political impasse is a lost sense of national balance that in turn reflects a loss of historical memory. Americans disagree about who we are because we can’t agree about who we’ve been. We are at odds over the meaning of our own history, over the sources of our national strength, and over what it is, philosophically and spiritually, that makes us ‘Americans.’”
Unquestionably, the 2012 presidential election will drastically impact the United States. But choosing who will sit in the White House for the next term is not America’s greatest battle. After November, a much more difficult reality awaits the winner—that of “a house divided against itself.”
“I’m hoping he makes it very clear on his Medicare stand,” a senior gentleman told The Real Truth in a calm, yet firm voice. His wife agreed, “Of course we are the older Americans, we lived through the 50s and 60s so we know what the good times are…But now there is so much division and hatred and fear in this country, it’s terrible…”
Their words resonated with several other anxiety-ridden attendees of a rally for Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan on a warm mid-August morning at the Walsh University Alumni Arena in Canton, Ohio.
“What I seek is the truth,” a lady of Argentinian descent expressed with earnest concern. “I already lived under dictatorship, I already lived under the military junta…under [Juan Domingo] Peron’s socialism, and then I already listened to all the demagoguery I have to hear…So what I want to know is if it is more about lies, or is it really as they say, that they want to relive what is the American dream?”
Fears seemed to be quickly assuaged, as the crowd cheered with enthusiasm during the candidate’s speech—a GOP-lensed criticism of the current administration. “The president was talking about Medicare,” said Mr. Ryan at the event, turning to the crowd and raising his eyebrows with a quiet assurance, “I’m excited about this.”
He followed with a phrase that rode a wave of applause: “This is a debate we want to have; this is a debate we need to have; this is a debate we are going to win!”
The electric energy of the crowd was reminiscent of a Barack Obama campaign event from the last presidential election. One such rally on February 23, 2008, was also attended by The Real Truth and reported on in the article Can a President Bring “Change”?
But the excitement quickly morphed into anger as attendees exited the arena. Outside, anti-Romney/Ryan protesters lined the road, toting signs and yelling, “Hands off our Medicare!”
The scene soon turned into a war of words, as various Romney/Ryan supporters joined the fray from the opposite side of the road. Both sides passionately yelled themselves into a cacophony that was ornamented by random car honking. At its climax, chants of “Freedom!” and “Hands off our Medicare!” along with an assortment of condescending statements from both sides such as “Get a job!” clashed loudly.
To bystanders, either side of the road could have passed for Democrat or Republican. They were pitted against each other for the same cause: saving Medicare. Watching it was like listening to two different verses of the same tune sung simultaneously.
Even as the informal debate began to wind down, the voice of die-hard shouters could still be heard: “This is what freedom looks like!” a woman bellowed out, while a man on the other side spat back, “Freedom is America!”
Again, how can these two sides get along—even after the election?
Similar discord continued weeks later at the Republican and Democratic National conventions. As if launching fiery attacks at each other were not enough, each party had its own share of in-house political blazes (between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney supporters, a Democratic platform blunder regarding Israel’s capital and God, etc.).
The conferences were microcosms of the national mood. A Washington Post article titled “Partisanship doesn’t seem worse. It is worse,” featured a Pew Research poll showing the extent of the divide: “In 1999, the average percentage point difference between Republicans and Democrats on 48 values question[s] in Pew polling was 11 percent. (In 1997, it was just a nine-percent difference.) By 2012, that difference had soared to 18 points.”
But the trend was not exclusive to Reds and Blues only. The article added, “…the Pew poll finds that the rise of partisanship extends to independents as well. ‘Even when the definition of the party bases is extended to include these leaning independents, the values gap has doubled between 1987 and 2012,’ according to a memo released by Pew describing the findings.”
The newspaper concluded, “What does all of this partisanship forebode for the…2012 campaign? Nothing good—unless you like nasty and vitriolic campaigns.”
Imagine if there were a “2012 Presidential Campaign Glossary.” It would be saturated with hot debate terms, such as “a moribund economy,” “mounting debt,” “family planning,” “same-sex marriage,” “gun control,” “hyperunemployment,” “entitlement,” “tax cuts,” “tax hikes,” “pork-barrel spending,” “healthcare overhaul,” “Medicare,” “spiking energy prices,” “terrorism crisis,” “declining U.S. international profile,” “Iraq,” “Afghanistan,” “Israel,” “Russia,” “China,” “Iran” and much more.
If you picked an entry from above, definitions would vary, depending on which “edition” you had.
Take Medicare for instance. The Republican edition would define it as: “a benefit program headed for bankruptcy (largely thanks to Democrats), which must be transformed into a private-sector-funded premium support program.” Yet the Democrat edition would define it as: “a benefit program headed for bankruptcy (largely thanks to Republicans), which must be regulated under new policies such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to lower costs.”
Each side sees the program is in trouble. Both propose solutions. Yet each side lampoons and boycotts the other’s proposal.
Analyzing the dilemma, The Brookings Institution stated: “Since Democrats mistrust the private sector in health care as much as Republicans mistrust the government, they predict that premium support will cause providers to profit and seniors to suffer. Ironically, Democrats favor competition among private plans in the ACA, but oppose it in Medicare, while Republicans push competition in Medicare but want to repeal the ACA. But who expects campaign politics to be logical?”
In even clearer language, FactCheck.org stated: “The Obama campaign is trying to peg Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as the guys who will ‘end Medicare as we know it,’ and make seniors pay thousands more for health care. The Romney campaign is trying to paint President Barack Obama as the one who is ‘raiding Medicare,’ and cutting benefits for current seniors. But the reality is that both campaigns propose cutting the growth in future Medicare spending—for good reason—and each is trying to scare seniors about the other campaign’s plan.”
Now back to the “2012 Presidential Campaign Glossary.” One term in which both sides could “agree” would be: unity. Both Republicans and Democrats would define it as: “an ideal condition only partially achievable in modern politics; the opposite of debate—and there is no democracy without debate.”
Yet the give and take of traditional debating and voting appears to be reaching the end of its rope when it comes to many of today’s complex issues. Politicians are less able to compromise without causing uproar and upsetting voters. If agreeing with the other side means losing votes, “agreeing to disagree” is often the preferred choice.
A USA Today report based on U.S. House Clerk’s office records since 1947, referred to the 112th Congress, from 2011 to 2012, as the “least productive two-year gathering on Capitol Hill since the end of World War II.”
“Just 61 bills have become law to date in 2012 out of 3,914 bills that have been introduced by lawmakers, or less than 2% of all proposed laws. In 2011, after Republicans took control of the U.S. House, Congress passed just 90 bills into law. The only other year in which Congress failed to pass at least 125 laws was 1995…Not even the 80th Congress, which President Truman called the ‘do-nothing Congress’ in 1948, passed as few laws as the current one, records show.”
By September 11, however, as Congress returned from a five-week recess, all legislators were expected to agree upon one bill: “The one must-pass measure—a short-term continuing resolution to fund federal agencies—will avoid any pre-election talk of a government shutdown, with which neither party wants to be tagged,” CNN stated.
The article added, “Issues on which the divided Congress has not found consensus include the Dec. 31 expiration of the Bush tax cuts and a budget plan to replace $109 billion in automatic spending cuts, a drought-relief plan passed by the House but not the Senate, the extension of the Senate-passed federal farm bill that is languishing in the House and a bill to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service.”
Such political misdirection leads to a dead end. Why can they not agree?
The answer is that where principles and beliefs do not derive from a plain understanding of what is right and wrong, there is no common ground.
Put differently, if what is deemed “right” and “wrong” is not the same to conservatives and liberals, they will never agree.
Think. In Lincoln’s time, the North thought slavery was the wrong thing to do, while the South thought it was right. The nation was split in half. Soldiers went as far as fighting their own brothers to death for what they thought to be the right thing to do. No one goes to those extremes for what they think is wrong.
Both Republicans and Democrats consider slavery wrong today. A bill promoting slavery would not even be proposed in today’s Congress, and there would be no debating and voting on it because it would be a clearly wrong bill. Everyone would understand that and agree.
Yet the issues of today are a different matter. President Obama believes same-sex marriage is right. Presidential candidate Romney thinks it is wrong.
Such is the case with issue after issue. Finding common ground hangs largely on whether or not two sides agree on something to be the right thing to do. If that basis is absent, lasting peace is impossible.
But what is common ground? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “a basis of mutual interest or agreement.” Looking at how the same dictionary defines each word is also insightful.
With that in mind, the common ground concept has more meaning. As a house must stand on solid ground or else collapse, so does America. This 300-million-people household is in desperate need of finding solid common ground on which to stand.
In other words, to be truly united, the nation must stand on well-defined beliefs across the board!
Think of the Pledge of Allegiance. Ask 10 Republicans how each thinks “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” applies to Medicare, or any other previously listed issue. You will get 10 different answers. Then try the same with 10 Democrats.
Ask: how can the U.S. function if the terms “one,” “God,” “indivisible,” “liberty” and “justice” are all subject to personal interpretation?
Just as the United States cannot exist without first being united, none of these issues can be fully addressed until leaders first come to grips with exactly who they are, and on what it is they believe—their common ground—as the representative group of the nation. Likewise, if America continues to stand as a superpower, it must be clear for what it stands. Not having a publicly agreed on set of values means everyone is in a constant state of compromise.
In such an environment, there is not much room for “United We Stand.” Instead, the house is now becoming so divided, one has to wonder how much longer it can stand!
Rewind the U.S. political time machine to its earliest presidential race. In those days, the runner-up to the elected president became vice president. George Washington (a farmer and soldier, with no formal schooling and no political party affiliation) and John Adams (a lawyer, Harvard graduate, and Federalist) had to find enough common ground to achieve one of the hardest endeavors: lead and keep a newly born country alive.
Fast-forward a handful of years and Adams is in a similar predicament as president. Jefferson—a Democrat—is his runner-up.
While each of these leaders had different views on how to run the young nation, they also had similar principles, and a similar vision: an independent—United— States of America. What that meant to them was not left to interpretation. Notice the opening words of the U.S. Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Notice the terms Union, Justice, Common, General, Blessings of Liberty, and United. In all of these, common ground is implied!
And politics were no rosier then. Tactics have always been the same—rhetoric and division are as old as democracy itself. Still unlike today’s extreme bigotry, left and right ideologies were not downright opposed. A nation could not have afforded such internal division and won a revolutionary war at the same time.
Such camaraderie is now inconceivable. Can you picture an Obama-Ryan or Romney-Biden ticket today?
The record of the last two years after Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives shows what would get accomplished: “Whatever Obama was for, whatever he undertook, whatever he proposed—all of it was seen as undermining traditional American liberties and moving the country toward some ill-defined socialism. Whatever else they did, Republicans would make sure they prevented Obama from accomplishing anything more. Over and over, they vowed to make him a one-term president. The result was an ugliness in Washington typified by the debilitating debt ceiling fight in the summer of 2011. It fed a worldwide sense that the United States could no longer govern itself” (Our Divided Political Heart).
The picture is clear: without a common set of beliefs America is ungovernable. And as the moral compass goes haywire, so goes the nation. To Washington, Adams and Jefferson, the presidency concerned how to build America on solid, common ground. For the nation’s next elected president, it is more about how to save it from falling apart.
Recall Lincoln’s speech. Continuing with the analogy of a house, he spoke of seeing “a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen—Stephen, Franklin, Roger and James…or, if a single piece be lacking, we see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared yet to bring such piece in—in such a case we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first blow was struck…”
Throughout his analogy, Abraham Lincoln alluded to the Bible. Unity is a basic biblical principle—one America either never knew very well, or simply forgot.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Amos wrote, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (3:3). The answer is so basic! Also in the New Testament, the apostle Paul instructed: “…that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Cor. 1:10).
That is God’s definition of unity.
Under such conditions, there is no room for debate, no attack ads, and no division whatsoever.
The antidote for America’s current state of division is plain. It must learn to “walk together,” “in the same mind and in the same judgment”—on common ground—with God. Only when the whole nation’s “basis of mutual interest or agreement” completely aligns with God’s, will it be fully blessed and truly united.
Sound impossible? What you may not know is that the same Book alluded to by Lincoln states it will happen soon, albeit not under man’s government. To learn how, order your free copy of the book America and Britain in Prophecy.
Any other approach will only lead to more division. Or as Jesus Christ plainly stated in Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”