Perhaps we’re making too much of the “trend” of polarization of Americans, Rightists and Leftists, Rs and Ds. We’re more than that, and we all know it, so why hunker in our bunkers? Just for the company?
It’s in our DNA. We’ve been of differing minds from the beginning. Not everyone was on board for declaring independence from what was the most powerful empire on earth. During the ensuing war, Tories were vilified, and patriots were declared by the loyalists as traitors.
Not everyone who we think of as Americans won the war for independence. Some very worthy and productive citizens found themselves choosing new addresses in England, France (only to live through another rebellion) and other places.
And many of those who counted themselves on the winning side found themselves impoverished, betrayed and forgotten for their contributions to the great victory over the Brits.
The point is, we humans are a contentious lot, capable of great deeds and lofty ideals, and at the same time guilty of unspeakable acts of inhumanity to others.
The heroes of the Alamo were not after the same American ideal that the abolitionists of New England were seeking. The immigrants to Mexico — that part called Texas — wanted free land and the right to own slaves to work it. So much for the ballad of Davy Crockett.
Divisions over the rights to define liberty continued from before the signing of the Constitution through the early years of Westward expansion into the territories and the beginnings of the industrial age (which, ironically, began back in Merry Old England) and led to the eventual secession of southern states.
There was and remains disagreement over the reason for the war, and for the name of the war itself. Northerners called it a civil war, and in the South it is still called the war between the states.
The winners of the war called it a moral victory over the evil of slavery, and the losers refute that; it was about states’ rights.
We’re still bickering over the issue of how much power the federal government has today, from how states count votes in a national election, to how to deal with the issues of vaccinations in a pandemic that affects the entire world, beyond the politics of the local governors or local school boards. And then there is Texas, still being Texas, whose new legal definition of personal liberty favors those who want to sue others who have a different opinion of whether women should have access to abortions.
See how much we have progressed, there?
Libertarians sort of hew to the line that America should be all about live and let live, but at what point does personal abdication of engagement in social issues become more about live and let die?
The isolationism of self-satisfaction — and a strong population of Americans with family roots in Germany — kept America out of World War I until many of our own people were lost when an allied ship was sunk by the Germans, , and it got personal.
Showing how fast we learn as a nation, we stayed out of World War II for some of the same insular reasoning until the realities of globalism killed Americans at Pearl Harbor.
After that, we decided we had to save the world, and got ourselves involved in every nook and cranny where there was money to be made saving democracy from communism, socialism or terrorism.
And then we began breeding our own stock of homegrown terrorists, whose love for personal liberty enables them to dictate the rules and save us from liberalism.
It helps the less articulate to have a quick label for everything. The easiest is the application of political party identity: Republicans and Democrats. We all know people who like the idea of having to look no further in choosing a candidate than check out the letter following the name. Is it an R, or a D? That’s all they need to know.
But, like a visit to the ice cream parlor, it gets complicated when you see the list of flavors.
Which is really what America is all about.
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Dean Minnich is a retired career journalist who served two terms as a county commissioner. He writes