In 1858, in a speech Abe Lincoln gave before a Republican convention that would nominate him for the Illinois Senate race, (an election he would lose, by the way), Lincoln proclaimed the following phrase that would live in history: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was, of course, talking about the issue of slavery which had so polarized the country, that civil war would break out almost immediately after he was elected President 2 years later. A civil war that would claim the lives of over 600,000 Americans, or the equivalent of 6 million with today’s population. The 1858 Senatorial race was between Lincoln and his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas who would win the election, and it resulted in the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates, which were mostly about the slavery issue. The same 2 squared off for the presidency 2 years later, and as we all know, Lincoln was the victor in that campaign. The relevance to today’s landscape, however, is that this country is more polarized and divided, as well as mired in dysfunction, as it has been at any time since those historical events more than 150 years ago. So let us examine the different ways that the country is split into ever growing fault lines.
Let’s start with the difference between rural and city life in America, today. That’s relevant because voters in small town America tend to vote heavily for Republicans, while metropolitan areas vote Democratic almost as heavily. That Red State-Blue State thingy. It all comes down to a question of values. People living in rural, small town-America tend to be more religious and self-protectionist. It’s a matter of tradition. Bibles and guns are the mainstay of most people living in the country-side. They have been raised to believe in a literal translation of both the old and new testaments, and no force on Earth can shake the foundations of those beliefs. Of course gay marriage should be prohibited since homosexuality is a sin. It says so, loud and clear, in the bible. Likewise, all abortions should be banned, since only God can take a human life. (Although, interestingly, all these anti-abortionists seem to have no trouble with the government executing criminals.) And it’s rather difficult to pinpoint a biblical passage that strictly forbids abortions. Not that any of that matters, since most religious beliefs come from sermons being preached in churches across the nation by priests that apparently have an insider’s pipeline to God’s desires.
As for the guns part of bibles and guns-wasn’t Jesus packing heat when he gave his famous sermon on the mount. Besides, doesn’t everyone know that our immoral, communistic, atheistic government would throw us all into concentration camps without hesitation, if we didn’t maintain our own guns. And not just a handgun, but an entire arsenal of weaponry. So goes the thinking over much of rural America. Such are the beliefs that one in indoctrinated with while growing up in this country environment. Young people being raised in this setting, if they are sharper, more industrious, and more ambitious, will often leave these small towns for metropolitan areas where they have much greater economic, cultural, and entertainment opportunities. Those that stay behind are usually more content to lead the same lives as their parents did, and inherit the same set of doctrines and dogma. Thus, the Republican Party, which goes out of its way to cater to religious evangelicals, or bible thumpers, as I would call them, reaps the lion’s share of the vote in rural America.
Living in big cities almost forces people to become more tolerant. While rural America is almost solidly white, metropolitan areas usually consist of a mix of whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Moslems, Jews, etc. Gays are just as likely to be living in the apartment next to yours as are heterosexuals. If one is to live well in big city life, the dogma of demonizing homosexuals, or other religions or races, or women having an abortion, necessarily must become a thing of the past. Hence, city dwellers become less attached the the religious dogma they may have been raised with, and increasingly become more secular and more tolerant. They will then mostly vote for Democrats who are more in tune with their secular beliefs.
One can also look at the great political divide in this country as between white men and the rest of the populace. White men (and often married white women) tend to vote mostly Republican, because they feel their privileged status in American society is being taken away from them. With black, Hispanic and Asian populations seemingly on the increase, older white men and women believe that a time will come in the not too distant future, when they will no longer be able to call the shots. Then all these minorities will become the dominant voting bloc, which, in turn, will greatly increase government handouts and welfare payments to people too lazy and shiftless to fend for themselves. Or so goes their thinking. Thus, the GOP, which is continually trying to significantly cut the food stamp program, housing assistance, or health insurance benefits, is the party for them. Democrats tend to exhibit more empathy for for minorities or those in need of financial help. This doesn’t sit well with the current white majority.
The thing about our current political divide is that it is increasingly hardening. Less and less is there any room for political compromise, or a meeting of the minds. In this November’s election, if the GOP gains control of both the House and the Senate, with a liberal Democrat in the White House, today’s dysfunction and polarization will seem like a minor spat between family members. And all political pundits are predicting that Republicans will win big time. Then we will truly become a house divided against itself, as Lincoln warned 150 years ago. And we all know how well that turned out last time.