What are we fighting about?
Our country seems to be at war with itself. Peaceful protests over the specific cases of police abuse have devolved into a broader, more violent protest against government institutions and actions. These issues have become symbolic of larger issues of injustice that have plagued our system from its very inception
They are further fueled by partisan political moves. We have entered a vicious self-reinforcing cycle in which each side sees justification for its, increasingly radical, actions which spur further response…and so it goes.
This has generally caused both the Left and Right to pull back into ever more radical positions, leaving the tattered remnants of the moderate center in this country without a home, stuck between rabid factions, none of which seem to offer viable solutions to truly significant challenges we face as a society. These problems if not resolved in some rational fashion threaten to undermine the very ties that bind our society together.
The specific issue is whether it is possible to undo the injustices of the past. For over two centuries, the enslavement of blacks was part of the economic fabric of our society. It was not just tolerated, the Founders accepted it as a “necessary evil” as Sen Tom Cotton correctly stated. The reality of the time was that the only way to create a coherent country, incorporating all of the colonies was for slavery to be recognized politically if not morally. This compromise set up the underlying contradiction in our country. “All men are created equal,” but we designated some people as property, not to mention leaving women out altogether.
The lofty ideals and the reality on the ground were at conflict.
The sad reality is that America has never been able to live up to its ideals. It did not then, and it does not today. Given human predilections, we likely never will. However, as flawed as the original logic may have been, they created a system that has allowed us over time to move ever closer to our values. The emancipation if not full enfranchisement of slaves. The right of women to vote. The Voting Rights Act and other Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. All were halting, if incomplete steps forward.
Perhaps a benevolent dictatorship could enforce “equality.” Yet, we have seen no such regime emerge. In fact, the histories of communist totalitarianism, fascism, religious authoritarianism, and oligarchy are replete with degradation that make our transgression pale in comparison. But relativism is not a viable standard. The prejudicial action against any group, be it defined by race, religion, or belief, is unacceptable in philosophy or practice. We are still not there, but our form of government creates the best opportunity for the inexorable iteration towards the goal.
So how do we square the circle, to create a society that more closely represents our ideals?
It is an intractable problem, one complicated by history and the innate human desire for continuity. We can either accept incremental change, which has for the most part been our heritage or push for discontinuity, a radical or violent break with the past. This becomes a viable and tolerable option only when compromise is impossible, when mere existence of one side presents an existential threat to the other. This was our Civil War experience.
So, the real question today is whether we are on a path to sequential change or whether recent events are pushing us to the brink of civil conflict (if not outright war)?
I fear we are moving towards the latter. The ever-increasing partisanship and vilification of the opponent leaves little ground for compromise. Litmus tests, like the unequivocal support of the Party Line that broaches no dissent, are ultimately self-destructive in their attempts to create a mutually exclusive utopia.
But this need not be the case. In fact, there are no true existential conflicts at play today. Virtually everyone believes that “some” form of change is essential. While the nature and magnitude of that change is an open debate, there is little reason to believe that we have reached a zero-sum game. Improving the rights and opportunities of one group ought not inherently require the commensurate loss in another.
Unfortunately, the political leadership (if one can call it that) on both sides are fanning the flames of discord. When the acquisition of power is the primary objective, the welfare of the citizens is the first victim. In that respect, all of us are on the losing end.
The Parties are so hell bent on gaining and maintaining power that anything seems permissible and they are destroying our country. The logic seems to be, “Once we get in power, things will be different.” This has proven illusory.
Perhaps it is Quixotic to believe there is still a middle ground.
It requires that we break ranks with those at the top. Interestingly, you see it to some degree in the Democratic Party. Although it is often only shades of difference, there seems to be “moderate” and “progressive” factions, which is albeit not likely to move things towards compromise. Unfortunately, the Republicans cannot manage even that slight differentiation. They have bowed to Trump’s Tweetstorms and seem terrified to offer even modest dissent for fear of retribution from a President that plays the petty tyrant.
To succeed, individuals on both sides must be willing to break ranks and reach out across the aisle to find rational solutions.
We are on a collision course with our future. If the trajectory (whether divergent to the Left or Right) continues, we very well may see civil unrest turn to Civil War. It is not inevitable, but it is becoming a specter of reality.