Love in a Divided Nation
A Divided Nation Americans today live in a divided nation. That has always been true of Americans to one degree or another. The Patriots and Tories, Federalists and Anti-Federalists, the North and the Confederacy, the modern Democrats and Republicans, and various other divisions of people, some more violent than others, sparred over different ideas held by advocates of the various philosophies. Tories are believed to have made up fifteen to twenty percent of the people, possibly as much as a third of the American population during the revolutionary period. Families were sometimes divided over the issue of loyalty to the Crown. Some of the loyalists moved to Britain, the West Indies, or Canada after the war. Some went to Florida. Some violence took place after Britain surrendered, but the vast majority of loyalists stayed in the United States and became citizens. The bloodbath that so often follows wars of that nature never happened.
The Federalists and Anti-Federalists didn't go to war and agreed on the basic idea of individual liberty. They had much in common in their love of freedom and of the new nation. But they had real differences on the nature of government and vigorously debated the best course forward for a country trying to be something no country had ever been before. They knew well the tendency of men to lust for and abuse power, for most to live under oppression. Federalist Alexander Hamilton and political rival Aaron Burr had political differences and personally disliked each other and eventually dueled, Burr seeing himself as defending his honor against defamation. This ended in the death of Hamilton. Burr avoided prosecution for the death, but his life was never the same.
Less than a hundred years into the nation's history, Civil war tore America in two and killed six hundred thousand of America's sons on battlefields. A new political party, the Republicans, under Lincoln, fought slavery and put an end to the institution. After the Civil War, North and South reunited as a nation. Unlike the aftermath of most civil wars, there was again no bloodbath. And no serious bid for secession by a state or block of states has been since made. A Discouraging Political Scene
Today's political scene is discouraging. Rhetoric is coarse and divisive. Cities burned and people died throughout months of political unrest in 2020. A new year brought a clash at the nation's capitol. Citizens don't agree on philosophy, vision, or even facts. We rightly worry about what the future brings. We hear or read stories of people who have separated from family members or ended friendships of decades over political differences. I have read of grandparents denied contact with their grandchildren over the grandparents' votes. I have seen impassioned requests from friends on social media, "If you didn't vote for (their candidate), delete me right now!" While I ignore such requests, some accommodate them. More and more, the circles of friends narrow. Insults are thrown out in the cyber-world towards general groups of people, often stereotyped, but they affect the real friends and relatives who read them and affect those relationships. The media and online world is brutal. Talking heads verbally attack one another and often large swaths of the population on television and Youtube and elsewhere. Behind computer screens, people talk to others, sometimes anonymously or through false identities, in ways they would likely not in person. Rather than increasing understanding, many conversations inflame. Emotions high, conversationalists make harsh assumptions and accusations. Family and Community
In my county, neighborhood, church, and workplace, among my relatives and social media friends, there is a great deal of political diversity. I have friends of many stripes, some very passionate for one set of beliefs, some for others. The country is not in two camps politically, but rather is a collection of hundreds of millions of individuals, each the product of a unique history of experiences that inform values. We want to believe that we all want the same things but see different means to those ends, and that's true for a large percentage of people on a great many issues. But we do have among our people true differences in our outlook, goals, and dreams. People can come together over a few basic things, but it is increasingly difficult to find and agree on a few basic things.
While there is diversity of belief and viewpoint and values among my wide circle of acquaintances, there is also love in my family and in my church family, among my friends in the workplace and neighborhood. There is generally civility among the countless acquaintances and strangers I encounter in daily life. I have friends of years who have never mentioned their political views and whose views I don't know. Sometimes I learn of a friend's views through a Facebook post or a comment in passing or in a discussion. Sometimes I am surprised, sometimes not.
Things that Matter
The things we fight over matter. The Revolution mattered. The discussion between Federalists and Anti-Federalists mattered. The issues fought for in the Civil War mattered. And the issues we face matter. Good citizens care about the issues facing our nation, and brave citizens speak out on important concerns, even run for office or support campaigns or causes in which they believe. There are important things at stake, and principle is important. But one very basic principle is civility and respect for each individual. Our nation was founded on the idea that the individual was created with unalienable rights, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. James Madison, sometimes called the "father of the Constitution," said of liberty, "In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example … of charters of power granted by liberty."
But important as the issues of our day are, and whatever the future for our country, I hope that we will love those with whom we disagree, even when we have disagreements on important moral issues. I hope that my friends of left and right and of varying views will be able to speak out on their concerns and express their ideas, share their thoughts and experience, and participate in their nation's conversations. I hope we choose to listen to one another, to appreciate one another, and to put our friendships and relationships above those things that divide. Too often, relationships of years are destroyed over these differences, and the opportunity to better understand others lost. Thomas Jefferson, no stranger to political division, said, "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend." Supreme court justices, the late Antonin Scalia and the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seldom agreeing on law or politics, were close personal friends. Their families were said to socialize and vacation together. The pair shared a love of opera and a deep respect for one another. They were even photographed riding an elephant. It is rumored that Scalia influenced the appointment of Ginsburg to the high court. Ginsburg said of Scalia, “We are two people who are quite different in their core beliefs, but who respect each other’s character and ability,” Ginsburg said. “There is nobody else I spend every New Year’s Eve with.” Upon the death of Scalia, Ginsburg declared "We were best buddies."