America’s House Divided: Who’s to Blame?
If I wanted to sound sophisticated, this essay would be much easier. Were my main concern what the reader thought of me, I’d change my thesis completely. If I were preening as some ultra-spiritual seer, with a vision of Ultimate Things that elevated me above mere political calculus, these lines would write themselves. I could cherrypick the Bible and selected Famous Quotations. (Call that the “Cherrypick Option.”) Then blather for 800 words on the theme: “A Plague on Both Your Houses.” I might even bend over backwards to blame the political right for today’s bitter divisiveness. I could use this as a clip to wave around to some leftist editor, “You see how even-handed I have been?”
The sheer rage and hysteria that pervades most leftist politics today is at once a charade to deflect its guilt, and a threat meant to win our compliance.
Blah, blah, blah. We’re way past that now. And actually I’m grateful. I’m glad on some level that events have removed the temptation to publish sophistries.
A Deadly Splitting Point
Politics in America have reached a dangerous, deadly splitting point. And it would be comforting if I could say that the blame falls equally to the left and the right. Certainly, publishing that would make me feel much more at home in venues like Manhattan, the Academy, and the Acela Quiet Car.
Too bad it isn’t true. It is in fact the case that the common ground in American public life on which civility long depended has largely fallen away. That political opponents more and more seem like enemies. That bipartisanship seems as distant a dream as global Esperanto or the 1919 League of Nations. Often, when such a thing happens, the guilt falls almost equally across the political spectrum. The left keeps moving leftward, the right goes marches rightward, and the center cannot hold.
You might say that’s what happened in the build-up to the American Civil War. Slaveowners wouldn’t settle for keeping their “property” unmolested. They insisted on grabbing more slave states, and dreamt of southern conquests, to spread a “slave empire” through Cuba, Mexico, and even Central America. Conversely, abolitionists wouldn’t settle for keeping slavery contained in its first tainted states. They insisted its moral evil be someday wiped from the face of the earth.
There really is no compromise, at last, between those positions. And Abraham Lincoln saw that. He said so in a famous speech, “A House Divided.” As a then mere candidate for Senate, he boldly declared:
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
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.
The same is true for America today, and for most of the West. We now see a political spectrum where the common presuppositions have largely been torn away. Almost all by one party in the bargain. I can’t indulge the pose of apportioning guilt equally.
No, the left is to blame.
The Left Has Stormed Off in a Tantrum
Unlike the national split in antebellum America, in our time the movement has all been on one side of the spectrum, which has charged with relentless energy away from the common ground we once shared. It has done so with ever-increasing momentum and haughty moralism. And now it looks back at us from the Brave New World it has occupied, and hoots at us with catcalls and violent threats for not marching in lockstep. The sheer rage and hysteria that pervades most leftist politics today is at once a charade to deflect its guilt, and a threat meant to win our compliance.
Don’t let them gaslight you. As of, say, 1996, both left and right in America could agree on most of the following propositions:
- American borders are sovereign, and those who enter illegally have no right to stay, or gain government benefits. It is our right to vote democratically on how many people enter, and what qualifications they have. And then to enforce that decision using officers of the law.
- Americans have fundamental Constitutional gun rights under the Second Amendment. It’s the job of lawmakers to determine reasonable limits on the exercise of that right, but it may not be repealed.
- The Supreme Court is meant to interpret the Constitution as written. That document is sacred, the foundation of civic order in our nation.
- Men and women are equal, but really different. Each sex exists as part of a natural order written in our biological nature.
- Abortion is at least regrettable and tragic, and even if we can’t agree whether or it should be legal, we all think it should be “rare.” It is not an act of “empowerment.”
- Marriage is between one man and one woman, and ideally, for life.
- Religious freedom is fundamental, and the government may not abridge it except for threats to public safety.
- Political speech should be free, even when some find it “offensive,” except for threats of violence and calls for the overthrow of the government.
- Academia should seek the objective truth, and allow the maximum free expression of different opinions to help us find it.
We Are What We Were
All those things sat on our common table, when Bill Clinton was president. On not one of those issues has the right moved further “right.” Our principles are the same. The GOP hasn’t given in to zealots of racist, theocratic, or even anarcho-libertarian extremes. We stand where Reagan stood. But the left has walked away. Even worse, it has stormed away from that table, and marched off into the night, shouting blame and threats.
The GOP hasn’t given in to extremists of racist, theocratic, or even anarcho-libertarian extremes. We stand where Reagan stood. But the left has walked away.
It’s not for us to follow them out into the parking lot, and apologize for nothing. Now all we share with the left is what Hobbes thought each citizen lived by: the desire to avoid violence, simply from fear of suffering by it.
They thought that Obama’s election in 2008 indeed “fundamentally transformed” America. That the election in 2016 was a mere formality, like some vote in old East Germany.
They were wrong. Now they’re throwing a tantrum.
We just need to keep our cool. And vote on November 6. And stand our ground. With right on our side, we must by lawful means defeat them. Comprehensively and utterly, without compromise or apology. As Sherman defeated the slave states.