247 YEARS AND COUNTING
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion or positions of the staff, management or ownership of Townsquare Media Tuscaloosa, it is solely the work of the author.
During this Independence Day holiday, the nation is coming together to celebrate. We are joining together to travel, host backyard cookouts, attend concerts and parades and ogle fireworks displays. Unfortunately, those may be about the only places Americans are coming together these days.
During his presidential “State of the Nation” address this year, President Biden declared, “We’re the United States of America, and there’s nothing, nothing, beyond our capacity if we do it together”.
History has proven him right. Despite deep divides and pressures from within and without, when we have united together for a cause, we win.
Even at our founding 247 years ago, the colonists were divided. Some were loyalists to King George; others saw the need for independence as the road to the future. Once the Revolutionary War began, enough of our ancestors united to defeat the most powerful military force in the world through attrition and dogged determination. They did it again in 1812.
The united ideal of freedom was rent by the lack of it for slaves from the beginning. By the eve of the Civil War in 1860, there were 4,400,000 slaves, a situation that could not stand. Our ancestors talked of "the land of the free" and boasted that "all men are created equal" but they didn't live up to those high ideals. That divide between abolitionists and slave holders led to the War Between the States, an event and an outcome that still splits us as a nation.
United as a nation after the Civil war, the U.S has struggled through reconstruction, segregation, "Jim Crow" laws, two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, a Cold War, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and countless police actions. Yet against all odds the United States of American has come together just when critics claimed we were at the beginning of the end of this grand experiment in democracy.
The Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s highlighted two Americas, those with complete freedom and rights and those still suffering under the weight of Jim Crow. Many blacks had fought in a segregated military during WWII and hoped their patriotism would change things when it was "over, over there". It didn't, so they came home to fight for their own freedom. They were not trying to destroy America but rather make this country live up to its promise of "liberty and justice for all". They wanted us to be one America.
Watergate in 1972 split us both politically and generationally. But our nation continued to march forward.
The 9-11 terror attacks on New York and Washington brought a fragmented nation together once again in a common cause to show terrorists that the opposite of what they had intended had happened. Their hate for democracy had actually made us a United States again.
The trouble is, once the crisis subsides, divisions often begin to reappear.
247 years later, warts and all, the United States of America is still here. This is the world's longest living experiment in a free society but the question being asked more and more is, how much longer can we live as a splintered nation?
The gulf between us is wide and fractured in many different directions. The political parties are not just liberal and conservative, they are becoming more controlled by extremist Republicans and extremist Democrats. Within each party there are even further splinter groups, all with varying views of what our future should be. To be a centrist or moderate is frowned upon.
Our national media, historically the rock of our free society, reflects the divide in our nation. The 24-hour cable news cycle has created a constant need for content. Filling the void with controversy is too often more important that reporting the facts. Thus, the advent of news commentating over news reporting. Left-wing and right-wing reporters and anchors put appeasing their fan base over legitimate and factual news. The media mantra has become “We report what you should decide”. The schism in society is reflected in opinion over news on networks across the board.
Nowhere is the rift in our society more prevalent than in social media. The worldwide web has been turned into a propaganda and political insurrection tool. The socialist riots of 2020 were coordinated using social media as was the right-wing capital insurrection of January 6, 2021. Russia and China utilized social media as a tool for misinformation and a way to further drive a wedge between us.
Nazi propagandist Dr. Joseph Goebbels would have loved social media. This infamous statement in a speech shows how important a fair and honest media is. “A lie told once remains a lie," he said, "but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.” Today we see lies and misinformation shared thousands, even millions of times by influencers. Even the media picks up on them and often further spreads them without fact checking.
Talk radio has further fragmented us. We listen only to those talk show hosts that reenforce our personal beliefs instead of those who might actually cause us to pause and think.
We as a nation are divided by our differences: gender, race, generations, locale, education, means, heritage, faith, and life experiences. These things divide us because we are not as President Biden said, doing things together.
The definition of politics used to be the “art of compromise”; you get some of what you want, and I get some of what I want. But now compromise is almost a curse word, a sign of weakness. Today the mantra is total victory or nothing, a modern scorched earth policy. No wonder we are an angry divided nation, unable to come together.
Division occurs when we scream at each other instead of talk. Division occurs when we call each other names and show no respect. Division occurs when we believe we are the harbingers of truth and those we disagree with are nothing but liars. Division occurs when we refuse to consider the other side might have a point. Division occurs when we let fear dominate hope. Division occurs when we let anger substitute for common sense and understanding. Division occurs when we let hate overrule respect.
Most of all, division occurs when we don’t realize we have more in common than what separates us.
Contrary to the belief of some, our founding fathers were not unanimous in their beliefs, some were Christian and others deist. Some of them supported abolishing slavery, others not. Some wanted a king while others had enough of royalty with King George.
The differences were enough to spark Dr. Benjamin Franklin to reputedly tell the other delegates at the Constitutional Convention, “We must hang together or surely we shall hang separately”.
The future of American style Democracy has always been a hot topic. Uncle Sam is either healthy as a horse or has one foot in the grave.
The “Democracy Index” published by the British “Economist” magazine lists the U.S. as a flawed representative democracy. More than 25 nations are listed ahead of us as “Full” democracies. The last time we were listed as a full democracy was 2016. They cite the deep divisions within the U.S. electorate for the designation.
In a recent poll, it was revealed that 70% of millennials (age 24-39) say they would vote for a socialist. The You Gov - Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found in their poll that only 50% of millennials (age 23-38) and 51% of Generation Z (age 16-22) have a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Capitalism.
A growing number of 30 and younger support do away with our constitution and writing another more socialistic one.
What may place us in the greatest peril are the findings of numerous studies that reveal Americans have not only a declining faith in their country but a declining faith in themselves.
President Reagan frequently referred to the United States as “that shining city on the hill”. He used to quote from John Winthrop to describe America as a beacon for hope, faith, freedom, and democracy. That beacon has dimmed in recent years to the point that other nations for the first time in history are issuing travel alerts about visiting the U.S. and using our division as a nation as part of the reason along with increasing violence.
In the 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Jimmy Stewart portrays a naive man who gets elected to congress. Once there he discovers that many members are more concerned with getting re-elected, political power and padding their own pockets than doing the right thing (sound familiar?). At the end he makes a heartfelt and emotional plea to the better selves of the politicians, ““It’s not too late, great principles don’t get lost once they come to light.” It wasn’t too late in 1939 and it’s still not too late.
247 years of history have proven we can truly be a united people despite our problems and differences when we want and need to be. We all need to be again.
Happy Birthday USA, many happy returns!!