The politics of recent years has been extraordinarily divisive. Economic distress and changes of many kinds – demographics, cultural mores, technological disruption – have produced a level of fear and anxiety that contributes to the everybody-on-edge atmosphere. Blabbering TV talking heads who won’t let anyone else complete a sentence and the incessant hyperactivity of the overheated and truth-challenged blogosphere add more fuel to the fire.
The nation is on a precipice – they call it a fiscal cliff – and we seem no closer to stepping back from it than before everyone voted.
Crazies have started online petition-signing campaigns for their states to secede from the union, and others not quite that off-the-beam talk about the election as if it’s the end of America as we know it.
Everybody needs to chill out. We need to look around and recognize that slightly more or slightly less than half of our fellow citizens – depending on which side we were on – viewed the election differently than we did, and that they are no less American than we are because of it. They may be wrong, but America gives them the right to be wrong, and America has endured and prevailed in spite of many electoral mistakes.
We are a resilient country, and we have had worse periods of political division than the one we are in now. The Civil War era and all that led up to it is an obvious example, and the neo-secessionists would do well to remember how that turned out for the country.
But in many of our lifetimes we have seen political tensions higher than today. Those still alive who lived through the Great Depression know that it brought forth dangerous demagogues on the left and right, and that the prospect of a revolutionary uprising, while remote, was not easily dismissed as impossible. The atmosphere in the Mississippi of my childhood pulsated with absolute loathing for President John F. Kennedy by the overwhelming majority of the white population. Blacks, who for the most part couldn’t yet vote, felt otherwise. Terrorist violence was common in the state and South at the time.
The 1960s brought the assassination of four major national figures, including the president, massively destructive and deadly urban riots that shook the nation’s foundations, the most divisive external war in American history, the emergence of a racist third-party presidential candidate who carried five states, and a presidential election won by a candidate who got only 43 percent of the popular vote – and was later impeached and resigned from office after thrashing the constitution.
And we think it’s bad now.
In times of political duress in America, what rescues the country is that the center holds. In our time, the center seems vacant, with polarized positions at both ends rigidly frozen. It’s a period of particularly glaring political irresponsibility in that respect, since there’s so much hinging on a meeting in the middle.
But the one hope is that ultimately most Americans land somewhere near that middle, even with all the noise from the wingers. And the politicians, since they rarely lead, will eventually follow us, and we’ll endure, even prevail, until another fight in another time down the road.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.