Op-ed by George Payne –
President Trump is not dividing the nation with his xenophobic and racist tweets and policies. The nation has always been divided. When has there been a time period in American history when the nation was not divided? It certainly was not during the American war for independence. Hardly a time of unified vision and purpose, these tumultuous years saw patriotic colonists pitted against British loyalist colonists in countless brutal conflicts over the destiny of North America.
And needless to say, there was no unity during the four centuries of slavery in the New World. For just how close did the captured Africans and African Americans feel to the landowning, self-governing, White Europeans? A horrific civil war was fought to unify the nation, but that only led to more social and political turmoil and much bloodshed. Emancipation, of course, quickly gave way to Jim Crow, and Jim Crow gave way to government-sanctioned segregation policies (e.g. redlining and gerrymandering) that still exist today.
When was this nation unified? You can argue during the two World Wars, but that is a lazy assessment, at least by a historian’s standards. Any real historian of this time period (1914-1945) can cite innumerable examples of social unrest in America, including racial, class, religious, and political divisions. How unified with white Europeans were Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during this period? How were Native Americans treated during the great wars in Europe? How were women at home treated? During the First Great War, half of the population in America was not even allowed to vote because of their gender. During these pre-civil rights days, tsunamis of bigotry and hatred swept through the entire nation from coast to coast in the form of laws, cultural norms, and religious edicts.
The cataclysmic upheaval during the Vietnam era has been documented exhaustively. Without laboring the point, this gruesome war emphasizes the thesis. The Vietnam era gave way to the Watergate scandals, the conspiracies involved with the killing of JFK, RFK, and MLK, and shocking disclosures of illegal assassinations by the CIA and FBI. It also marked the rise of conservative media, Reagan and his agenda, and the retaking of power by liberals in the Clinton years. Conflict and disunity have ruled the day since the founding fathers and mothers decreed that they were in charge of other people’s territory.
I think there is far too much panic about this nation being torn asunder or ripped apart at the seams by Trump and his confused and damaging ideas. He is not dividing the nation. If the Civil War could not destroy the United States of America as a concept, there is no way that someone like Trump will have that effect. He may fancy himself as being that consequential but he is far from it.
The reality is that America has always been divided. From the minute the Pilgrims landed in the New World they were encountered and confronted by a native population that was not unified themselves let alone with strangers from other lands. Assimilation and collaboration came painfully slow and has barely come close to reaching its potential. Quite the opposite. The history of this nation was birthed in outstanding hostilities and unimaginable acts of violence over security, land, treasure, dignity, and religion, (Almost always in that order.)
This nation was not built upon a mutual understanding between all citizens. But truth be told, it has always been that way, and it may always continue to be that way just as long as America opts to remain a democratic society, one where disagreement, strife, colliding values, openness, and legal protests are not only welcome but essential features of civic life. That is what democracies do: they institute systems which foster organized and constructive disputes among conflicting parties. These disputes almost always lead to social divisions but also creativity, voluntary cooperation, shared wealth, and scientific achievement.
So again, just where and when was the United States of America unified?
9/11 you say. Really? Was there no contention over going to Iraq? Did not over 400, 000 protesters at a time march in the world’s capitals? Was there no contention over the use of torture or the destruction of the Bill of Rights? Was there no nationwide conflict over the morality and competence of George W. Bush, Richard Cheney and the Vulcans? Come on. Post 9/11 was hardly a nation unified. The reality of Islamic terrorism and the role of the government to extinguish it from the earth was constantly debated and argued over. It was a time of immense conflict that brought no unity outside of a couple of baseball games and rock concerts.
There was never a unified America. There will never be a single individual in any democracy who has the right and the power to change this fact. As long as America remains a democracy, it will do so because it will not permit an individual to corrupt its core. Debate, disunity, and division, are all-natural byproducts of a healthy, working democracy.
George Cassidy Payne is an independent writer, social justice activist, and adjunct professor of philosophy at SUNY. He lives and works in Rochester, NY. George’s letters and essays have been featured in a wide range of domestic and foreign outlets.
(The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of the Minority Reporter.)