Since I’ve been writing this column, I know I’ve harped a lot on the division we see in our nation, but there’s a reason — it’s the most important issue facing the United States and how we conclude it will say much about the nation we leave for our children and grandchildren.
The reason I bring it up again is because of a piece which appeared on Sept. 30 on the University of Virginia Center for Politics regarding a project the Center and Project Home Fire have undertaken to use polling and data analytics to “identify America’s political fissures, and explain ways to foster compromise.”
I fully support the optimistic tone of the UVA Center’s author in that they want to “explain ways to foster compromise.” But I have to tell you, what this report shows actually scares the heck out of me.
There’s some good — such as the fact that both “Biden voters” and “Trump voters” seem to agree, for the most part, on the goals of the infrastructure and reconciliation bill.
The disagreements measured on more nebulous matters, such as politics, however, are quite stark.
For example, 51 percent of Biden voters and 57 percent of Trump voters strongly agreed with the statement “I have come to view elected officials from the (opposing) party as presenting a clear and present danger to American democracy.” A total of 80 percent of Biden voters and 84 percent of Trump voters “somewhat agreed” with that statement.
Another example of the polling includes the question: “Our country needs a powerful leader in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents prevailing in society today.” A total of 62 percent of Biden voters and 82 percent of Trump voters “somewhat agreed” with that statement. And in a frightening turn, a total of 46 percent of Biden voters and 44 percent of Trump voters somewhat agree that “It would be better for America if whoever is president could take needed actions without being constrained by Congress or the courts.”
Along the same line, 41 percent of Biden voters and 52 percent of Trump voters somewhat agreed with the statement, “The situation in America is such that I would favor (Blue/Red) states seceding from the union to form their own separate country.”
So, I transported my mind back to my elementary school days when I was educated on civics (apparently a lost art), and considered the idea of three separate branches of government — the executive, legislative and judicial — each intended to keep the other in check and the whole making up a system of governance that had not been seen prior to the 18th century formation of this nation.
I thought back to learning about the fact that our nation was unique and operated well because it was guaranteed that no man (or woman) could ever occupy the most important office in the United States for more than eight years.
When I thought back to those times, I realize I took a lot for granted. I took for granted that my fellow American citizens, too, had rejected the idea that tyranny was an acceptable way for this country to be run. I took for granted that this system was bulletproof, that no other individual, nation or bad actor could bring it down — that it was too strong.
I was somewhat right, because what I did not consider was the erosion occurring from the inside of the system itself, amongst the citizenry.
As I got older in school, I began to educate myself some on U.S. history and I can’t help as I look from the vantage point of this data from UVA to keep coming back to the upheaval of the 1960s — a time which not only saw some of the most sustained and deadly on-the-ground fighting of any era between political and social factions post Civil War. The era saw numerous assassinations and deaths over political matters — from the big four: John F. Kennedy Jr., Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, to the lesser known but no less important, such as Medgar Evers.
You see, more than 20 years before I was taught the lessons of civics as a small child, the fragility of the system was being put to the test, much as it today. Then, it survived. Looking back, I’m not sure how, but it survived. Can it now?
I don’t know? But what I do know is that the data released last week paints a picture of a polarized electorate which, more often than not, thinks its political rivals are “enemies of the state” — threats to both their life and liberty. And the answer, for many, as the data indicates, is a tyranny very much the same that American men and women have died fighting against for hundreds of years.
Can we reverse course? I don’t know? I can see my political opposite as a human being who has different beliefs, but if that same rival decides I am a threat to their life, then it starts a cycle that, once started, is difficult to stop. We need to stop, wake up and understand that our neighbors are not the most existential threat to our existence.