Over the past eight years I kept on hearing how divided America was, as if President Obama precipitated this new phenomenon. Therefore, was this some new and strange dynamic that had never existed before? Well to put it into historical and the most simplistic terms, America has been divided from day one. Whether it was over the American Revolution, and who to back, our King or our independence, debate over the Constitution, or the issues of slavery, international trade, alliances with Britain or France, the rural South over the industrial North, Americans found much to be divided about. As we moved past the Civil War, Suffrage, Women’s Rights, and the rise of the Union movement divided people and led to debate, violence, and strife.
Our divisions resulted in the disastrous Civil War which proportionally killed more Americans, by far, than all our wars combined. Statistically, compared to today’s population, the Civil War would have killed over seven million Americans. Even in our parent’s time, the divisions over immigration quotas, isolationism, World War II preparedness, labor rights, the worthiness of the Korean War, and the McCarthy Era, were deep and contentious. Had things changed for our generation? For sure Vietnam, the Draft, Civil Rights, Integration, the issue of busing, neighborhood schools, de facto and de jure segregation, Affirmative Action, women’s health issues, birth control, Choice, gun control, Gay Rights, the separation of church and state, and even free speech have divided our Nation.
In truth, many of these issues were resolved. Mainstream political leaders of the center left and right adjusted to the changing social values, morays and realities and found compromises. Were these compromises perfect? Of course not! No compromise makes everyone completely happy! In the past, especially with the issue of slavery we had tried to solve this economic and social stain on our society with the Three-Fifths Compromise, the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Compromise of 1850. In actuality these were failures, as we ignored the inevitable and paid a huge price in blood and treasure.
Why today are the issues we face any bigger, any more important or as threatening? In fact, they are not. But, today, in the wake of the Internet, the rise of talk radio and the accelerated “Greed Factor,” we have seen the dramatic rise of a new dynamic. This force has emerged after years in the making. It started to emerge in the Nixon Era with the “Silent Majority,” and then it blossomed with Reagan and his neo-Goldwaterism. It was a vestige of Joe McCarthy and the Witch Hunts of the Korean War-Red Scare Era. It does not have the old shape of North versus South, or the division over race or religion. It isn’t over free trade or tariffs. It isn’t over States’ Rights or even American Exceptionalism!
It has crystalized in this hyper-age of hucksterism, which has been long a factor regarding the American culture. We now see its full-blown manifestation in this coming Age of Trumpism. America has turned to a carnival barker, a super Billy Bigelow from “Carousel,” a valueless, creature, who worships glitter, excess, illusionary glamour, and the witless idea of notoriety to help sell junk and disgraced policies. First we heard the clarion call, “Make America Great Again!” Then we heard the double-talk, the accusations, the insults, the outrageous lies, the bold promises, the baseless assertions, and then we witnessed the age old tactics of “divide and conquer” and the “Ends justify the means!” Next we’ll be hearing about how America was founded on “Social Darwinism,” or the survival of the fittest. This is not new. Machiavelli wrote about this hundreds of years ago, we saw the power concentrated first in the Church, then in the rise of the nation/state along with the age of the “Divine Right of Kings,” and then the Age of Revolution, the empty promises of the regicides, the rise of Communism and of course stain of fascism.
Are we now entering into another era of the next false G-d? Are we entering into an era of know-nothingness, mythology, parallel “truths,” or hyper hucksterism? If answers to complex problems were simple, why have they been ignored? One should read, “The Power of Myth,” by Joseph Campbell, or re-watch the PBS series hosted by Bill Moyers with Campbell, which was aired in 1988. Somewhere in the near future, Americans have to wake up and become aware of the realities of the world we live in and not remain captives of the myths we believe about ourselves. We are not G-d’s gift to mankind. We are made of flesh and blood, and no more heroic than anyone else. We are basically a country of immigrants, who have brought us the best and brightest, along with a lot of societal and generational baggage. When we start to “grow up” we may then start to reject these myths and the false gods, embodied in empty personage of Donald Trump.
This does not have to be a new age of hyper-divisiveness. This does not have to be an era dominated by mindless fear; dominated by race hatred, religious strife, gender competition, and class warfare! As we address this new challenge, we must confront our skeptical masses, who seek easy solutions and simplistic nostrums, with strength, realism, knowledge, facts, education and unity. If we turn away and ignore what is out there, assuming it will wither away, we will be fooling ourselves, indulging in our own brand of self-delusion, and condemning ourselves to a bleak future. As the philosopher, and essayist, George Santayana wrote: “Progress far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let us focus on what made us great and not the Pied Pipers who have led us down the path of delusion, division and delusion.