July 4, 2017
It seems there is a never ending screech of politicians, pundits , academics proclaiming that America has never been so divided as it is today. Truth is, our nation has always been divided in matters of society, culture, economics and politics. The union of the Thirteen Colonies cam about because of a common purpose and common foe. Even so, many colonials were not in favor of leaving the British Empire. When independence was confirmed after a war that lasted seven years, quite a few loyalists were so distressed that they emigrated.
But for the most part, Americans have always shown a united front toward foreign enemies, particularly those who open the hostilities and who were a threat to United States interests. Post independence, the obvious exceptions were the War of 1812 and Vietnam, both of which were widely unpopular. The Iraq war is unpopular in retrospect, but was unopposed for the major action, except for a miniscule fringe. (World Wars I & II had their fringe opponents, too.) Nothing kept Americans more united in purpose than the 40 year Cold War with the Soviet Union. Of course, the prospect of nuclear annihilation in 30 minutes focuses the mind wonderfully.
At home, the division has always been palpable. The Constitutional purpose to ensure domestic tranquility has been imperfect at best. But public policy disagreements, which occasionally erupt into physical altercations, have served as a dialectic thesis. antithesis, synthesis. Perhaps the most fundamental tension is individual freedom versus security. Nearly everything else is a corollary. Direct conflict has nearly always produced a compromise that is heavier on the liberty interest. The result has been innovation and its unparalleled material success.
Professor Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College gave an interview to James Taranto in the July 1-2, 2017 Wall Street Journal (“Divided American Stands — Then, and Now” – p. A11). Many will not agree with everything he has to say, but he raises points worth considering.
Independence Day greetings to all.