On June 16, 1858, Sen. Abraham Lincoln gave his legendary “House Divided” speech. One of the most famously recognized excerpts from that speech states, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” At that particular time in history, the institution of slavery and the abolishment thereof was the focal point of American interest. This one issue literally split the country in half, setting it on a course that would ultimately alter its history through the harsh and very painful realities of civil war.
Fast forwarding to 2020, 160 years later, we as Americans find ourselves actually “existing” in a house divided. But unlike the days of Sen. Lincoln, present day America’s divisions are diverse in nature and far more abundant in numbers. Today we are divided on everything from political ideologies, social injustice, tax reform, pro-life, pro-choice, gender, income disparities, health care reform, welfare reform, education reform, racial injustice, immigration, and the list goes on and on.
It seems as though we as Americans have found more things that we disagree on than we agree on, but isn’t that one of the fundamental elements of democracy? I am inclined to concur, but here is where things get a little complex.
Conflicting theories and ideologies promote healthy dialogue, this in turn, supports the foundation of democracy. But when healthy dialogue turns into shouting and threatening, when social media becomes a digital battleground of verbal warfare and when insults replace any attempts at reconciliation, then what was once healthy becomes toxic.
America’s forbearers, more often than not, argued tooth and nail for whatever cause that they believed would benefit America, and when their differences were too great, they reserved the common resolve to let the majority rule within the confines of the Constitution.
Today, some of our political leaders manipulate, coerce and even downright threaten their counterparts and constituents in order to get what they want. Such despicable displays of political hedonism have become a common practice within our government, and thanks to the miracles of modern technology, they are now being played out right before our eyes through various media outlets.
We as citizens have found ourselves joining in the fracas, mirroring the actions and antics of our political leaders. Today in many cases, party affiliation is used as a motive to attack the beliefs, opinions and characters of others while hiding behind the façade of unity.
It makes me wonder, what will America look like 20, or 30 years from now? If it is true that we reap what we sow, then what will be our children’s and grandchildren’s repercussions for our current actions? Keep in mind that there is no recompense for disunity, no matter how sanctimonious we may feel our individual issues are. One thing is for certain, every decision that we make whether good or bad, every difference that we allow to hinder the progression of our nation, and every action taken or not taken is being recorded in our history.
Are we truly willing to allow our time in history to be potentially looked upon as the beginning collapse of American democracy? Will historians point their fingers at our era and say, this is when America’s differences were far too great for even their own greatness to overcome?
The window of opportunity is still open, but it is closing and closing rapidly. Are we strong enough to seize that opportunity in order to mend our differences? Are we wise enough to thoroughly understand that our egalitarian rights to disagree does not necessitate our division as a nation? Is there enough compassion left in each of us to look beyond the perceived faults of one another to find common ground? There is a universal truth that all men are created equal, that means we must share a commonality that can actually transcend our differences if we choose to do so.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” such prophetic words eloquently spoken so long ago, issues the same admonition today as it did in yesteryear … “unite or fall.”
America, we have a very important choice to make: either continue to allow our differences to divide us or use those same differences to strengthen us, it’s as plain as that.
Patrick Sellers is Freeport Township supervisor.