One nation, under God, indivisible? No, I don’t think so.

We are as fundamentally divided as a people now in 2011 as we were in the 1850s, just prior to the Civil War.  Back then the division centered around the issues of racially-based slavery and the proper relationship between the state and federal governments.  Today the divide is defined by an economically based  servitude and the nature of the relationship between the individual and the coercive power of government of all levels.

In the 1850s there were people on both sides of the divide who saw the inherent dangers the our situation but they had no real solution,  proving helpless to prevent the drift toward the Civil War.  And as Shelby Foote, the eminent Civil War historian points out, the Civil War was the result of our failure to do what Americans had previously done so well, i.e. compromise.  There were back then two groups of irreconcilable ideologues, abolitionists who considered slavery a moral evil, not a political issue, and ardent states’-rights proponents who saw the power of Washington in any area of their lives as a threat to their sovereignty.  These people identified themselves more closely as members of a particular group (their state) than as American citizens. For them the form of bondage that most offended was the subservience of the South to the Northern bankers, shippers, and industrialists.  Today there are many Americans who have a greater allegiance to an ethnic, cultural, religious or economic interest than to our national interest.

It might be instructive for Americans, and especially our leaders, to go back and revisit the years from 1850 to the outbreak of hostilities in 1861.  I doubt they will bother.

Yet I believe that in some sense, perhaps only lightly felt, Americans realize the perilous nature of our present situation, at least to the extent that they understand we can’t stay on our present course. (In a July 10 Rasmussen poll, 68% of Americans surveyed said the Unites States was heading in the wrong direction, only 25% in the right direction.)

I believe that ordinary Americans are looking for someone, a leader who could transcend our entrenched interest group-centered attitudes and bring us together.  That was, after all, a part of Obama’s appeal in 2008 when he said “there is not a conservative America and a liberal America, there is the United States of America.  There is not a white America, a black America, a latino America or an Asian America, there is the United States of America.”

Whatever happened to that idea?  More and more it seems these words were just empty campaign rhetoric.The man whom so many hoped would take blue states and red states and turn them into a Purple Nation has become just another political Great Divider. And our divide is wider and seems more insurmountable than ever.

So here we are now, no longer One Nation, Indivisible.  And lacking the leaders with the courage to risk offending their various political bases.  In one sense, we are reaping just what we have been sowing for more than a generation.  We no longer imbue our children with a sense of commonly held ideals, we no longer tell them our National Story. The road to political power is now paved with the efforts to get our fellow citizens to see themselves as belonging to specific interest groups (white, black, latino, male, female, gay, lesbian, transgendered, liberal/progressive, conservative, senior citizens, union members, public service employees, gun owners, etc. etc.) and if enough members of these various groups can be convinced of their own victim-hood and entitlement, so much the better.  If enough of these interest groups can then be cobbled together into temporary electoral coalitions, you win.

Shared sacrifice?  Common purpose?  Those ideas are for chumps, quaint perhaps, but not really meaningful in our world today.

The Civil War was the greatest political calamity our nation has ever faced,  It is a pity we haven’t remembered its lessons.  The Great Depression of the 1930s was the worst economic calamity we have endured.  The economic collapse of 2008-09 was proof that we turned our backs on the harsh lessons the Depression taught us about economic safeguards and restraints, and about fiscal responsibility.

Both the Civil War and Great Depression severely tested the bonds of our nation and its people.  Putting the pieces back together in each instance was a long, painful, and sacrificial process.

Getting out of our current political, social, and economic mess will also be slow and painful, and it will certainly entail sacrifices.  Are we any longer up to the task?

My guess is no, not as we are presently disposed.  What will be required is a different type of political leadership, perhaps a different shared definition of both Fulfillment and Success, and the renewal of a sense of shared identity and purpose (if in fact these things any longer exist in America). Here’s hoping it is not already too late.

5 responses to “One nation, under God, indivisible? No, I don’t think so.

  1. The definitions for “Nation” and “God” got warped along the way. That little fracas in the 1860s turned everything upside down and inside out. This corporation in Washington, D. C. obviously serves a very anti – human god.
    As for living in a Nation, that was abolished with the 14th Amendment. We are no longer people on land defined by metes and bounds. In 1873, the Supreme Court ruled that everyone is presumed to be imported statutory persons and aliens in the state in which they reside. In other words, U. S. citizens. All corporations eventually get around to monetizing and harvesting human beings.

  2. Do i hear you suggest that Obama is the one dividing our country, not the Republicans and Tea Party folks? Really? HE is the great political divider? Gee, I kinda thought he was so busy trying to fix the economy, get us out of two wars, and stuff like that. Didn’t read that he was busy tearing the nation apart. Thanks for the update.

    • Amy, I’m not picking on Obama, I’m just holding him to his own stated standard. He presented himself to the American voters in 2008 as a healer, a unifier, a post-partisan political figure who could bring us together. Once President, he has been no less partisan than his predecessors. In 2009 he rebuffed Republican efforts to be involved with the stimulus effort, telling them that “elections have consequences”, basically told them to shut up and take it and never once met with Republican leadership for more than nine months. In the 2010 elections the people of this country spoke very clearly in repudiating the Democratic congress. Obama isn’t listening to that either. Those are not the actions of someone who wishes to heal anything, they are the actions of an ideologue. We need a leader who doesn’t demonize the political opposition and who can build consensus. Obama is going to have to move beyond his ideology to do that. He is a hard core liberal trying to lead a country that is right of center. He doesn’t hear very well.

  3. “We need a leader who doesn’t demonize the political opposition and who can build consensus.”
    Got one to suggest? Sarah perhaps? What about Rush? Hey, don’t worry the Koch brothers will come up with someone to get that” hard core liberal” out of office. The golden rule usually comes out on top and they have billions to spare.

    • All I can say is that any such leader I might suggest would not be anyone from Washington, DC, of either party. And nowhere have I suggested that either someone like Palin or Limbaugh is the answer to anything. You’re just throwing straw men at me. Obama is the President and the primary responsibility for the situation in Washington is his. For the first two years of his Presidency he had large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and they engaged in an orgy of spending and large new government programs that dramatically increased both the scope of the federal government and our national debt. I wouldn’t ask or expect him to stop being a liberal. But I do think he has to realize that only 21% of the American electorate describes itself as liberal, 40% conservative and 35% moderate, according to a recent Gallup poll. He has chosen to interpret his election as a desire for the liberal agenda that the Democrats in Congress instituted in 2009-2010. The 2010 election was the American people’s response to that. You can’t take an entire nation where 21% of its people want to go. He got 52.9% of the vote in 2008, which means that a lot of moderate voters saw him as someone who could appeal to a broad base of Americans. Since the election, he has been playing his hand like he thinks that 52.9% of Americans are liberals. He is alarmingly out of touch with the majority of Americans. When he says (as he did this week) that 80% of Americans favor increased taxation, one has to wonder if he has checked the latest Rasmussen poll which shows 55% of Americans are opposed to any tax increases as part of a budget reduction deal. Today, one of the biggest Democratic businessmen in the state of Nevada (Steve Winn, from Las Vegas) came out and voiced his frustrations about Obama and our current economic crisis.

      (The link:

      Amy, it’s not just right-wing wackos who are angry. Obama needs more than his liberal base to govern this nation effectively and to do the job the American people sent him to the White House to do.. It’s time for him to eat his peas too.

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