The Founding Fathers Set Us Up to Be Divided
If you think the U.S. has never been so fractured, you haven’t paid attention to history
“America has never been so divided.” If you’ve heard this stale cliché once, you’ve heard it a thousand times — usually courtesy of a Republican. They imply Democrats have torn the U.S. apart and should shoulder the responsibility of uniting the country. Conveniently, they forget four key facts:
- The onus to heal America isn’t solely on the political party in power.
- The GOP currently stands for whatever Democrats aren’t and nothing more, so division has become their specialty. If President Joe Biden were to call the sky blue, they’d likely say it’s azure.
- Their king of kings, Donald Trump, has never lifted a finger on behalf of unity.
- Division has defined America from the very beginning.
The View’s Meghan McCain recently warned, “We are heading more and more towards the most divided America of our time” while discussing the party-line debate over vaccine passports. Um, okay. But has she ever cracked open a history book? Division is in our bones, right down to “In God, we trust,” a national motto that’s divisive as hell (and clashes nicely with the First Amendment Republicans are so fond of citing).
“Divided we stand” at least would be something on which most of us could agree.
The continental rift is nowhere near as bad today as it was when the Civil War took more than 600,000 American lives, and division within families had cost so much more than the loss of Twitter follows. The elections of 1824 and 1876 were just as contentious as in 2020. But those elections were indeed stolen — and history has the receipts.
McCain’s comment is a White lie seeped in privilege. It’s the point of view of a rich, White daddy’s girl who never suffered from the ramifications of a country divided by race, sexual orientation, or income level. Social media might make it seem so much worse than ever, but the division has been long and horrendous for many of us.
How do you achieve a truly united USA when the interests of the individual states must always override the interests of the entire country? In 2021, you don’t get unity; you get Georgia’s new voting law.
Will Smith once said, “Racism is not getting worse. It’s getting filmed.” We can say the same about the Divided States of America. Our division is now being brought to us live on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, YouTube, and various social media platforms. We have people like McCain paid big bucks to poke the beast 24/7. Even when it’s breaking news, it’s hardly groundbreaking.
Political party interests have always superseded the people’s interests, creating the original recipe for a divided United States. In 1787, when the nation’s founding fathers drafted the U.S. Constitution — a vague AF document that has kept division alive and well for centuries — the Federalists (led by first Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton and John Adams) wanted a strong central government.
Meanwhile, the anti-Federalists (later known as the Democratic-Republicans) argued for the preeminence of states’ rights. The dueling factions set the stage for the blind party loyalty George Washington warned us about. He was perhaps the one founder wise enough to recognize there are two I’s and no unity in politics.
It’s Time to Give Up Our Cheap Obsession with the Constitution
It was written and signed by flawed men — not infallible gods.
From that moment on, the U.S. was all about contention. How could a country based on the principles of independence and equality while flouting both so spectacularly (see: slavery) be anything else?
In the years leading up to the Civil War, it was pro-slavery vs. anti-slavery and North vs. South. Back then, the party interests were flipped. The blue Southern states — then the stranglehold of the Democratic Party — were for states’ rights and slavery. (They’d be the ones protesting masks and Black Lives Matter today.) They didn’t give Abraham Lincoln a single electoral vote in the Election of 1860. The Republican Party of the red northern states, which had nothing in common with today’s GOP except its name, carried him to victory.
Post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws continued to pit Whites against Blacks, honoring an American tradition of White supremacy that has lasted four centuries and counting. In the late 19th century, capitalism and immigration became dividing points, followed by women’s suffrage and Prohibition in the early 20th century.
In the 1960s, our division multiplied, with civil rights, gay rights, feminism, and the Vietnam War simultaneously tearing us apart. Later, it was abortion, gun control, AIDS, burning the U.S. flag, gay marriage, kneeling during the national anthem, transgender rights, and still, of course, systemic racism. Those who talk about culture wars, identity politics, and cancel culture like they’re new sensations are either suffering from selective amnesia or being deliberately dense.
The January assault on the U.S. Capitol and democracy was horrible. But if the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter that launched the Civil War in 1861 had been televised, it would have been exponentially more horrifying.
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell thinks he’s so big, bad, and scary, threatening a “scorched earth” U.S. Senate if the filibuster gets canceled. He’s no match for Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery U.S. representative who physically assaulted his anti-slavery colleague Charles Sumner with a cane on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1856. So much for freedom of speech — and opinion.
But then, hypocrisy, like division, is a hallmark of the American way. They’ve been two constants from the very beginning. There isn’t anything Republicans won’t turn into a political battle, from a global pandemic to Dr. Seuss.
Republicans are now the chief champions of states’ rights and an unobtrusive central government (unless it suits them). It’s as confusing an ideal as it was when it was pushed by Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans in the early 1800s: How do you achieve a truly united U.S.A. when the interests of the individual states must always override the interests of the entire country? In 2021, you don’t get unity; you get Georgia’s new voting law.
Americans have learned the lesson of their Founding Fathers well: Divide and try to conquer. Too bad we still haven’t figured out how to learn from history — or our mistakes.