The Great American Divide

The events leading up the January 6th Congressional certification of the 2020 Presidential election have engendered a sense of the keenest dread regarding the nationwide political (and perhaps civil) unrest we might soon see as a result.

The initial outcome of the November 3rd contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden raised a great many questions regarding the conduct and intentions of the officials supervising the elections in key swing states.  Almost from the moment that Joe Biden seemed to be moving toward a victory of unprecedented (and perhaps unprecedentedly unbelievable) proportions, inquiries into the oddities of the collection and security of the incredible number of mail-in ballots—and the tabulations of all the ballots cast—were being made.  Partisans on both sides of the matter each looked at the issues being discussed and, no surprise here, came completely opposite conclusions.  Americans were, depending upon the media sources cited to support their opinions, either witnessing an amazing and exciting victory for Joe Biden or the most egregious and frightening example of election fraud in our nation’s history, one that literally stole the Oval Office from President Trump.

Whether Americans believe we are now facing either terrible treason or a steaming pile of sedition, few minds today seem open to considering a viewpoint other than their own.

It must be remembered that this episode of electoral carnage is not an isolated incident that can be easily explained away simply by blaming Donald Trump’s stubbornness or the apparent Democratic willingness to bend (or break) the rules.  Seen in its proper context as an outcome of ever widening social, cultural, and political divisions in America that date back to the 1960’s, we are today experiencing the inevitable blowback of increasingly irreconcilable systems of behavior and beliefs that cannot comfortably co-exist within our country any longer.  

Explained in its most simplistic form, on one side we have those who consider our country to be irredeemably cruel and unjust.  These individuals and groups see bigotries of every possible sort and a desire to crush personal freedoms as the actual animating principles of our nation, and these horrors apparently date back to the very founding of America.  

Unsurprisingly, they view Donald Trump and today’s Republican Party as the modern incarnations of the whip-wielding slave masters of old, ones determined to rob the already oppressed of any joy or hope, and they believe an omnipotent administrative state to be the ultimate guarantor of the freedoms they crave—as long as that government supports the social justice agenda they deem essential.  

Paradoxically, this effort to ensure individual fulfillment is completely reliant upon the continued development of an ironclad and eternal system of group identities and grievances managed by vast government bureaucracies, which will thereafter use their limitless powers to identify and correct all injustices.  Thus, any questions raised about the conduct and outcome of the 2020 Presidential election are simply part of a broader strategy to continue to frustrate individual aspirations and deny justice to those groups historically denied their rights.

Those who support the election challenge of President Trump, again taken as a rather simplistic whole, have a completely different point of view regarding the proper role of government.  Their vision of American history and of the American people as a whole is largely positive and suggests that the mistakes of the past have already been adequately addressed and ameliorated.

Consequently, these individuals have limited sympathy for those who continue to complain of group oppressions; they instead prefer to focus on the need to encourage more personal responsibility and individual accountability.  If your life is less than ideal, so their reasoning goes, your problems are likely ones born of foolish, immoral, or irresponsible choices that have caused many of your own life difficulties to multiply—and claims of systemic discrimination are merely an excuse for your own shortcomings and failures.

Therefore, an all-powerful government is an unnecessary and expensive drain on personal wealth that rewards stupidity and saps individual initiative—and so must be resisted—particularly because it now seems to trend more and more toward systems of income redistribution and blame-shifting that are believed to discourage hard work and reward indolence.  Fearing that electoral fraud has been used to enable the aggrieved few to steal wealth and power from the responsible many, they believe that Democrats are attempting an illegal takeover intended to benefit groups that are completely undeserving of further patience, support, or taxpayer-funded largesse—at the expense of hardworking Americans.

Today’s crisis of Presidential legitimacy is very much a proxy for these two distinct views of our country’s past, present, and future.  This means that, whoever is eventually declared the winner, he will be assured of implacable and vengeful opposition from the other half of Americans who vociferously disagree with the governing philosophy his administration will pursue.  

These competing perspectives are on full display when discussions of immigration, abortion, policing, women’s rights, drug enforcement, racism, public education, judicial systems and laws, taxes, workplace discrimination, job creation, sexual orientation, college curriculum and completion, religious freedom, zoning policies, public aid, healthcare, housing, and a host of other issues come to their forefront—and the white-hot rage of both Democrats and Republicans has been driven by fears and frustrations that have surprisingly little connection to either Donald Trump or Joe Biden as individuals.  These two men are merely the visible symbols of a much broader and deeper conflict regarding the very soul of America, one that will not be easily resolved no matter who is ultimately inaugurated as our next President.

Given the mind-boggling damage to our economy and communities due to our approach to combatting the spread of the Covid-19 virus, which has basically boiled down to inflicting maximum national misery in exchange for questionable public health benefits, the next American President will face unprecedented fiscal challenges armed with only a fistful of debts.  State and local governments will be pleading for massive federal financial bailouts that will be impossible to provide, and the very tangible limits on government spending on all levels will fuel skyrocketing levels of angst and anger throughout our nation.  

Moreover, the misunderstandings inherent in the many clashes between those pushing group grievances and those who reject these will turn every debate into yet another exceedingly unproductive exercise of talking without listening.  This will only further intensify the ugliness and ad hominem attacks that now define our discussions—including, sadly, those involving the members of our House of Representatives and Senate.

I have no idea who will win out on Wednesday and what the days and weeks to follow will reveal.  However, I am certain that this will be but one battle in what will likely be the long and miserable cultural, social, and political civil war that is now upon us.  The Rubicon has been crossed, the Bastille has been stormed, and Fort Sumter has been fired upon.  Now we must all choose a side and see whether it is somehow possible to create a whole nation out of two disparate—and seemingly incompatible—halves.

I only hope that Americans of good will and sound judgment emerge to help shepherd us through the very challenging days, months, and years now ahead of us as we work to rebuild a new (and hopefully improved) United States of America.

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