Recently over at Dan’s fine blog, I posted in response to the more political beginning of this week’s topic. And I thought that perhaps the subject deserved to be a topic of its own here.
Despite Joe Biden’s pleas for unity, there is little doubt to even the least politically savvy observer that we are a divided nation. And while for some reason that feels unique to our times, it objectively isn’t. We have always been a divided nation to differing degrees over different issues. I was a kid in the 60’s. One quick view of the evening news quickly told you how divided we were then.
But there is something unique about this current division. It’s kind of fake.
When southern states declared their desire to secede they did so because they had a reason. They felt that their entire economic well-being could be threatened with the abolishing of slavery. And they weren’t wrong. The degree of the impact could be argued since the south seems to be doing pretty nicely without it now, but to say it would have had no effect on them then would also be incorrect to a degree. So, when you get down to it, it might have been exaggerated, and it might be rooted in something that even desired was morally wrong, but at the center of their reasoning was something real.
In the 60’s we were divided again over civil rights, but we were also bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. Proponents of the war maintained that to let Vietnam become a communist country would result in the famed “domino effect” in southeast Asia. Opponents of it cited the corruption of the government we were backing in the south in comparison to the reformist (though communist) movement of Ho Chi Minh in the north. Some felt pulling out would be a disaster, others felt remaining in was a disaster. But the one thing you could say about either argument was that they were both real possibilities. While someone was right and someone was wrong, you could say the ‘wrong side’ still had their reasons.
What are the reasons for some of our current division? Just listen to interviews or even just the chants of the insurrectionists at the Capitol: “the election was stolen”, “I’m fighting for my freedom because otherwise we will become a socialist regime”, “Democrats and others in a national inner circle are engaged in a Satanic conspiracy of child abduction and only Donald Trump is keeping them at bay”. What are the bases for these assertions? Where did they come from?
Well we kind of know the answer to that. “The election was stolen” came from Trump and his backers even before a single vote was cast. Based on what? Well, objectively it seems more from a desire to frame the election in a way where only a win for him would be a legitimate one. Objectively there was no evidence for this claim to be even remotely true. Republican-appointed, conservative election officials maintained the integrity of this election…..even beyond others due to the non-reliance on technology and a lot of manual counting of written ballots. Republican-appointed conservative judges threw out countless court challenges, sometimes with stern admonishments over the frivolous nature of the suit. In essence, “the election was stolen” because people who had reason to want to cast doubt, did.
What about us becoming a socialist government by mere governing from Democrats? How exactly is this going to happen? Are they going to rewrite the Constitution …...with an evenly-split Senate? Are they going to do it by force? And what does a ‘socialist government’ even mean to the people chanting?
The last gem is pure Q-Anon. But that doesn’t make it any less believable to those who believe it. Is it factual though?
So when you look at some of the main points of division, do they share any sense of real-world validity the way division over slavery or fears of advancing Communism did? The sad answer is “no”. We find ourselves at each other’s throat over issues that aren’t even real. They are the products of misinformation.
What I do find encouraging is that the issue of misinformation is being given serious attention. People in positions that count are recognizing it as a root problem and looking at solutions. People in general are talking about it more. Even victims of it are starting to question how they were lured into conspiracies they now find absurd. Not all of them, but some.
So what to do, what to do? Well I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I like to think I tend to look at things logically. I have an idea, and it’s what I posted on Dan’s blog:
“What I would like to see happen immediately is a government requirement for two mandatory classes to be taught in every accredited school. Just like a certain number of years of math and English are required, these two topics should be required as well:
Starting with a basic introduction in Grammar school and developed through high school with more advanced levels, we should immediately require the teaching of the same level of American civics and politics as is required by any person seeking citizenship. My Rosa, who is now a citizen but who came from Peru, knows more about how Congress functions than most of my "born here" friends.
Secondly, certain schools do already teach the following, but it needs to be mandated nationwide: critical thinking, logic, and how to evaluate source material and information.”
Now you might ask, “who the hell are you to assume this would fix anything?” And you’d have a point. I can’t say for sure it would, but I do have some folks who would agree with me. Care to hear from them?
“A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.”- James Madison
“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”----George Washington
“Say whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government, or information to the people. This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is in their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” ---Thomas Jefferson
I rest my case. In conclusion, if we insist on being a divided nation, and perhaps that is inevitable, maybe even good to a degree........can we at least debate things that are real?