Over the past two years, I have challenged myself with physics courses at my high school. I’ve learned the usual suspects—forces, acceleration, fluids, the motion of a pendulum. However, there’s one unit I just started in Physics II that, in my mind, perfectly captures the American political landscape.
The unit is electrostatic forces; whenever you take a charged metal rod and bring it near an uncharged rod, the charge in the uncharged rod becomes polarized. The positive charge is on one side and the negative on the other.
Is there any better analogy for American society?
Though the overall balance of conservatives and liberals has remained relatively constant during the past thirty years, the way in which they move and settle has not. In 1976, according to Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort, less than a quarter of Americans lived in counties where the election was a landslide. By 2004, that number had doubled to nearly 1 in 2 Americans. We have developed sub-communities that are characterized by homogeneity in beliefs and political affiliation.
But what are we gaining from this pervasive separation?
The level of polarization in our country has gotten worse, with congressional Republicans and Democrats unable to find common ground to promote the good of the people, of the country, over petty partisan politics. We have insulated ourselves with those who walk, talk, and think like us. We have disregarded the very spirit of diversity, the spirit of thought that built this country from the ground up.
I am a teenage conservative, and even I realize that America is more than an individual’s ideology. It’s about collaboration, mutual respect and constant debate – three qualities needed for progress.
Unfortunately, militancy in some political movements has produced a volatility not seen since the 1960s. We have regressed to a time of faithless chiding of any comment, idea, or value that is contrary to one’s own. Issues like police killings of members of the black community immediately become partisan issues and talking points for politicians rather than an objective matter to be seen in a non-emotional light.
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
There are many times when people within a country may become divided, whether politically, ethnically, religiously, or by other such division. Such was the case in the mid to late 1800s when brother waged war on brother, father on son, and son on father. Tens of thousands of men lost their lives over what they thought was an irreconcilable difference between northern and southern society.
What these men failed to realize, however, is that internal conflict means internal and external demise. The American south, grounded in what it believed was “right,” and the north, spurred on by what it believed was “right,” left towns in ruins, fields torched, thousands homeless, and thousands more dead. Atlanta was one of the Union’s primary targets, where two-thirds of the city was burned down, according to James Crew’s letter to his wife. Columbia, SC fared no better, with the city charred. General William Tecumseh Sherman later reflected on the fires in Columbia, saying, “Though I never ordered it and never wished it, I have never shed any tears over the event because I believe that it hastened what we all fought for, the end of the War.”
So, what does all this talk about war from the 1860s have to do with 2016? Everything.
While we’re not in imminent danger of a war breaking out or the secession of states, we are becoming increasingly divided like the long ago – but not forgotten – partition along the Mason-Dixon line.
Talk to your neighbor who’s your political opposite; start a discussion with someone who has different ideas; share your values and listen to others’; unite this country.
America is strong: we’ve withstood many wars, panics, the Great Depression, and 9/11. It’s time we realize our strength is what unites us. Our commitment to excellence, liberty, and country surpass the commitments of any foreign nation. We are a distinguished and innovative people.
However, as George Washington said to James Madison in a letter, “We are either a United people, or we are not.” The latter will bring demise while the former will result in an American century, one filled with hope, honor, prosperity, and peace.
Sew the stitches of this union before it’s too late.