Opposing ideas blend into American ideals
It has been a divided first half of the year for these United States, politically speaking. Republicans haven’t controlled this many branches of government since George W. Bush’s second presidential term, and yet Democrats seem more staunchly left-leaning than ever before in their growing efforts to battle policies coming out of Congress and nominees and executive orders coming from the White House.
But it’s easy to get caught up in the midst of current events and present-day tensions, and to forget that this country has always been a nation divided — albeit some decades more strongly than others.
On Tuesday, we will celebrate Independence Day, marking the 241st year since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in which Americans claimed their independence from the rule of Great Britain. Revolutionary War era history buffs might note, however, that this was hardly a unanimous way of thinking. It took weeks of debate to draft the document, and several colonies still felt breaking away from Britain wasn’t in their people’s best interest. It still took over a decade, and another solid round of heavy arguing, to draft the U.S. Constitution.
But finally, by the 1790s, we had a constitution meant to unite us all under one road map of federal law. So the arguing could stop, right? Wrong.
The political climate in the United States only grew more and more heated, eventually dividing north and south so deeply that war broke out among the states, with 11 Southern states seceding from the Union to form the Confederate States of America, in an effort to protect states’ rights and their economic reliance on slavery. (Two border states, Kentucky and Missouri, didn’t break away officially, but were also recognized as part of the Confederacy.) The North won the war, of course, and President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves. But that certainly wasn’t the end of the South’s political disagreements with the North, nor was it the end of injustices and discrimination suffered by African-Americans in this country.
Our country has never been as drastically or violently torn as it was during the Civil War. And that includes the politically turbulent eras of the Great Depression, World War II and the McCarthy communist witch hunt and decades-long Cold War that followed. It includes the era of protests in the 1960s and 1970s — the feminist “bra-burning” movement, the civil rights demonstrations and March on Washington to defeat racial segregation, the anti-Vietnam War rallies.
It includes the immediate distrust of Muslim Americans following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and our increased military presence in the Middle East that resulted — issues that still divide us today.
Here’s the takeaway: We may be a nation divided, but that is nothing new for America. She has seen riots, wars and evils in her nearly 250-year history, and yet she still stands, united by one flag and one diverse melting pot of often combative viewpoints and opposing ideals. Our differences may lead to civil and political unrest at times, but they are also what make us so uniquely American. They drive us to confront our fears and our mistrust, and to initiate the discussions that eventually drive change and move us forward as one nation.
So remember our divisive roots this weekend as you find yourself in the midst of a political feud at the family backyard barbecue. These stars and stripes are sewn together with endless fibers of difference — in age, race, ethnicity, religion, income, sex and beliefs — and that’s OK. In fact, that’s something well worth celebrating. Happy birthday, America.