I used to believe that the USA is as divided now as it was in 1860, and as the 1860 electoral map shows, the country was very divided then. But I think we are far more divided now than then.
Born and raised in the South, I was taught the mythologies of the South's secession and of the Civil War, especially those of the "Lost Cause" of the South and what I came to call "Noble Lincolnism" in the North. But after I decided to do my own research of the era, I discovered that almost all I thought I knew was simply Bravo-Sierra.
I learned that not only was slavery the focal point of the country's disunity, it was in fact the only meaningful point of the nation's disunity. That is, in 1860 the South and North were not really in dissension over anything substantive but slavery, not even on secession. (After all, there was an active secession movement among state-level politicians, including the governor, in Wisconsin in 1860!)
On almost every other principle of America's founding and the structure and purpose of government, there was practically no disagreement between North and South. By 1860, though, all the areas of basic commonality were fully overshadowed by the slavery issue with all its moral and political implications, but both the USA and the temporary CSA were established as representative republics with governments of limited powers and authority.
But today, the American Left and Right share almost no commonality of political world view. I am an ordained United Methodist minister, now retired, and I suggest that what is happening to the country is well illustrated by what has happened to the United Methodist Church, the third-largest religious denomination in the country.
The UMC began grappling with homosexuality in the 1976 General Conference of the church. In our polity, the GC, as it is called, is the only body that can set rules and regulations for the whole denomination. The GC meets every four years for two weeks and does not exist in between.
Beginning in 1976, advocates for full inclusion of homosexuals in all offices of the UMC began their fight. Then and in each successive GC until 2016, they fought for the GC to approve ordination of homosexuals and to include officiating of same-sex marriages or unions as part of all pastors' ministry, to include such services in UM churches' sanctuaries.
They never succeeded. Finally, 2016's GC set a special GC for 2019 that would have the sole task of resolving the issue once and for all. All the delegates agreed that the 2019 GC would determine the final answer and that neither the advocacy nor traditionalist side would raise it again. That GC met in February 2019 and voted to retain the status quo and in some details to strengthen it.
Of course, it did not "resolve" the issue at all. The advocacy side doubled down and reorganized while the traditionalists stood around and patted themselves on the back for winning. As the result, the liberal-progressives dominated elections for delegates to the 2020 General Conference. In the meantime, an ad hoc commission was established to find a way forward. It announced that secessionism was the only answer for 2020 (although of course it was not called that) and with the Council of Bishops' approval, the first order of business for the 2020 GC was to be a vote on the dissolution of the United Methodist Church into at least two denominations.
The 2020 GC did not take place because of Covid. It was rescheduled for this year, then rescheduled to begin in late August 2022. Even so, there are no voices anywhere calling for reconsideration of dissolution. That die has been cast even though the vote remains 18 months away.
It took from 1976 to 2019, but both sides finally realized that they each understood all matters of the issue and that no new arguments, no new theology, no new insights, and no more debates were going to go anywhere. No one's mind was going to be changed. No compromise was possible because the fundamental tenets of each sides' beliefs and religious world view had been pared down to their core. There was nothing left for either side to give that did not equal full surrender. And no one was going to raise the white flag.
So secession. Sorry, I mean, "Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation."
Welcome to America today, the UMC analogically writ large. Like the UMC, the coming dissolution of the United States began long ago. I think it actually began in the Civil War, which IMO is when the "imperial presidency" really began, though the seeds did not sprout until Wilson's disastrous presidency. But then they did take deep root and have grown ever since.
Just as Lincoln's election brought secessionism into the fore in 1860, the one-two punch of Trump-then-Biden are the levers that are fracturing the country now. There simply is no compromise even possible between Left and Right any more because there is no common ground or understanding on how the country should move into the future. By "no," I mean zero.
No common ground at all on these matters; there is no longer any "centrist" position:
- Limited government
- Size of government
- Scope of government
- Authority of government
- Reach of control by government
- Global warming - climate change - environmental policy
- Who controls election processes in states
- Who gets to vote
- What is the meaning of citizenship
- Control of immigration
- Use of technology
- Meaning of privacy
- Meaning of human rights
- What does the word, "unalienable" mean
- What does federalism mean
- Control of the judiciary
- International relations
- Energy policy
- Federal spending
- Identity politics
- The right to keep and bear arms
- What is "truth?"
I could go on, of course, but I think that gets the idea across. I do not see how a dissolution of the country is avoidable. Avoidance will require sincere and enduring compromises of politics from both Left and Right, compromises that are not actually possible because they would require the surrender of fundamental tenets of political belief. That is not going to happen.
So what will be the tripwire for us? I think it will be the 2022 mid-terms. No matter which party comes out ahead, the result will be soundly rejected by the other side. I pray that the aftermath will be peaceful, but I am not going to bet any money on it. But the United States as we have known it until now will begin dissolving then.
God, I hope I am wrong.
Update: As to be expected, Angelo M. Codevilla gets more to the heart of the matter than I, although his paper and my essay do not disagree. He is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute and professor emeritus of International Relations at Boston University. Read, "American Exodus."
The latest Gallup research shows that under President Joe Biden, the partisan gap has reached its widest point, surpassing the gulf under former President Donald Trump and likely making Biden the all-time leader of partisan approval.
In Biden’s first months, the gap between approving Democrats and Republicans has been 86 percentage points. That means Biden is approved by 96% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans. He easily beat his former boss, former President Barack Obama, by seven points.
By comparison, Trump had 87% approval among Republicans and 10% among Democrats. While he bragged about his GOP approval, former President George W. Bush had a higher (89%) rating with Republicans in his early days. ...
The survey is the latest to show the political division in America growing after the heated 2020 election. It follows another from Rasmussen that found bipartisan agreement that "cheating" helped Biden win the election.