We’re still per­ilously hang­ing to­gether

The Signal - - OPINION - David W. HEGG

Ben­jamin Franklin is cred­ited with a clever say­ing that drew at­ten­tion to the ne­ces­sity of unity among our Found­ing Fa­thers. He opined, “We must, in­deed, all hang to­gether or, most as­suredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Of course, he meant a lit­eral hang­ing, the sen­tence im­posed on those con­victed of trea­son against the Bri­tish Crown. As the first Amer­i­cans stood against their Bri­tish over­lords, it was ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial for them to be united, shoul­der to shoul­der, res­o­lutely de­fend­ing against any­thing that would erode their es­sen­tial unity.

To­day, those of us who have in­her­ited the coun­try they formed are in need of the same ded­i­ca­tion to a rea­son­able unity. Sim­ply put, we’re fall­ing apart.

We are more di­vided than ever po­lit­i­cally, with po­lit­i­cal peers them­selves at war with one an­other. We are more di­vided so­cially, eco­nom­i­cally, re­li­giously, and ge­o­graph­i­cally, and the ev­i­dence shows up dur­ing ev­ery news cy­cle.

Any­one play­ing with open eyes and an open mind must agree we are watch­ing a seis­mic up­heaval in the very fab­ric of civil so­ci­ety.

The Found­ing Fa­thers could have formed a monar­chy. His­to­ri­ans reg­u­larly re­mind us of a move­ment to draft Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton as our first king.

But what they did cre­ate was a grand ex­per­i­ment of govern­ment “of the peo­ple, by the peo­ple, and for the peo­ple.” The only prob­lem was the great di­ver­sity of those very peo­ple. They were from dif­fer­ent cul­tures, races, so­cio-eco­nomic back­grounds, philo­soph­i­cal and re­li­gious back­grounds. The only so­lu­tion came to be known as plu­ral­ism.

Plu­ral­ism means many things in our coun­try. It means power is shared by more than one rul­ing party. It means all have the right to prac­tice their cho­sen re­li­gion. It means those who are dif­fer­ent agree to dwell to­gether in unity, de­spite their di­ver­sity.

Clearly, a plu­ral­is­tic na­tion prom­ises great free­doms for all, but even more clear are the mon­u­men­tal chal­lenges di­ver­sity presents. So what did our founders do about the chal­lenges? They faced them on two fronts.

First, in terms of laws, they laid out a sys­tem that pro­moted unity while pro­tect­ing the na­tion from tyranny through the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers.

But se­condly, they counted on the char­ac­ter and in­tegrity of the peo­ple to act with rea­son­able self-con­trol and ci­vil­ity when con­fronted with their dif­fer­ences. Sim­ply put, the laws pro­vided ex­ter­nal com­pul­sion, but even more im­por­tant was an in­ter­nal, per­sonal sys­tem of ethics that flowed from an an­cient com­mand to love your neigh­bor.

Here’s the deal. Di­ver­sity with­out ci­vil­ity breeds an­ar­chy. That’s what we are watch­ing all around us. We’ve been given a front row seat on the ban­ish­ment of civil dis­course start­ing with our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and flow­ing all the way down to those protest­ing in the streets. No longer is it ac­cept­able to dis­agree with our op­po­nents. Now it is fine to smear, in­sult, de­grade, slan­der and vil­ify them with im­punity.

Yes, we prize free­dom of speech, and must al­ways fight for the rights that go with it. But just be­cause you can say hor­ri­ble things about an­other Amer­i­can doesn’t mean you should.

And just be­cause it makes you feel em­pow­ered to fire ver­bal can­nons at an op­po­nent doesn’t mean your words will end up solv­ing any prob­lems.

In fact, those at­tempt­ing to en­hance their power po­si­tion by de­stroy­ing peo­ple on the other side demon­strate, by their very man­ner, that they lack the char­ac­ter we most need in those we trust to lead us for­ward.

I wish Ben­jamin Franklin and his friends were still with us. But I fear their eyes would well up with tears at the way we’ve messed with their repub­lic.

They would see we’re al­ready hang­ing, per­ilously close to fall­ing com­pletely off the precipice, be­cause we’ve al­lowed cyn­i­cism, in­vec­tive, in­sults, and hate­filled de­nun­ci­a­tions to be­come our na­tional pas­time.

Di­ver­sity only works when ci­vil­ity is prized. Or, put an­other way, when a plu­ral­is­tic na­tion doesn’t hang to­gether, sooner or later it will be un­able to hang on.

Di­ver­sity with­out ci­vil­ity breeds an­ar­chy.

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