The United States have always been disunited to one degree or another from the very beginning.
As a confederation of thirteen states, quarreling was the primary form of debate. Politicians killed each other over points of principle. Our early history is one fractious moment after another. Papering over the differing positions kept the union together until, in 1861, it flew apart, descending into a civil war of horrifying proportions. Before the outbreak of war, a South Carolina Senator had beaten and seriously injured a fellow senator with his cane on the floor of the Senate. His constituents sent him additional canes.
We continue to live with the legacy of that war to this day. We are divided by geography, by income, by whether we are rural or city folks, gay or straight, Caucasian or not, rich or poor. Our politicians skillfully set us one against the other, concocting history to suit their purposes.
We all sense that it was not always thus and indeed it wasn’t. The US came out of World War II in general agreement, united, with the political left and right separated by very little. There was broad agreement between the parties and the disagreements were matters of degree, not substance. Like most such pleasant situations it didn’t last.
A study from the Pew Research Center shows that the division has returned, only the gap between the hard left and the hard right is wider. Despite whatever else you may see, reality is that the mass of America is in the middle, but the middle has shifted to more conservative. There is also a shift in attitude toward those with other views. Those who are “Red State” consider those who are “Blue State” as ignorant or deluded on subjects as diverse as agricultural subsidies and gay marriage.
This past Tuesday, incumbent Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran defeated a Tea Party candidate who decries Federal intrusion and “wild government spending,” demanding that Federal spending be drastically cut. As the state that finishes dead last by any metric, it’s amazing to see a politician demanding that less money be spent to change that. As Mississippi gets $3.00 for every $1.00 it sends to Washington, demanding less seems odd. “We want life to be worse!” seemed to be the slogan. African-Americans, able to vote in an open primary, proved once again the power of the great middle ground of American politics.
The Pew study says:
“The majority do not have uniformly conservative or liberal views. Most do not see either party as a threat to the nation. And more believe their representatives in government should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want.”
The proof of this pudding lies in the fact that, despite the squealing and howling from the extreme left and right, we tread the middle way, somehow acting very reasonably, no matter how unreasonable so many of our fellow citizens are.
But then, history tells us, it has always been the American way.