When you have complete uniformity of opinions, you no longer have a democracy. People who wail about the divisiveness in our society want us to all have the same opinions—theirs.
There is a lot of whining and handwringing about how divided the country is and how polarized are the political parties and Congress. We are repeatedly told that at no time in our history has the country been so divided. If only this divisiveness would end, we could all join hands and sing happy songs.
That is a bunch of baloney. Divisiveness has been present at every stage of development from this country’s inception. Furthermore, the people begging an end to divisiveness usually are complaining because they want everyone else to agree with their viewpoints. They have a tendency to denounce groups as being “extreme” when those groups don’t want to compromise their principles; at the same time they do not want to give an inch.
In case you slept through history class, here is a crash course about divisiveness in American history. Fasten your seat belts.
Americans Have Always Been ‘Divided’
From the very beginning of independence, the Founding Fathers heatedly debated what type of government the country would adopt, with the resulting factions of Federalist and Anti-Federalists. The insults these factions heaped on the Founding Fathers during elections and debates would make most people cringe today. The divide over to how shape the legislative body resulted in the split between a Senate and a House of Representatives.
There was also divisiveness about our relationship with the various Native Americans. There was bitter divisiveness over where to place the permanent capital for the country, to such a degree that some states threatened to secede from the new union. Forced military service of merchant sailors commandeered on the high seas caused a bitter debate on whether to declare war, and if so, on which country: France or Britain.
Stopping the import of slaves and limiting the number of slave-owning territories was divisive. There was divisiveness over the war with Mexico, followed by the divisiveness over whether to admit Texas into the Union. There was exceedingly bitter rivalry between abolitionists and slave owners, which ultimately led to the cataclysmic American Civil War.
Then there was bitter controversy over Reconstruction and readmitting the rebel states (and individuals). The populist movement and the labor movement and those demanding voting rights for women sparked divisions. There was much divisiveness between isolationists and those who wanted the United States to enter World War I, which was repeated when Europe gave us World War II, but not before there was much divisiveness over Prohibition and FDR.
We’re Just Barely Into Last Century Now
There was great divisiveness over just how much Communist infiltration of the government had taken place before and during the 1950s, with Joe McCarthy making claims he could not ultimately back up. There was divisiveness in the 1960 presidential election when, as historians generally acknowledge, widespread voter fraud resulted in the election of John F. Kennedy, who caused divisiveness by botching the Bay of Pigs.
That was nothing compared to the divisiveness caused by President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War and the advent of the counterculture. That was truly divisive. Of course, there was intense divisiveness over the civil rights movement (That was good, wasn’t it? I can’t remember). Watergate was another excuse for divisiveness, as was Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Some saw détente with the Soviet Union as a mistake.
Opponents of Ronald Reagan tried hard at causing divisiveness, but somehow it never really took root. However, divisiveness came back with the Clintons and really took off with George W. Bush’s election and the fiasco he unleashed in Iraq. President Obama quixotically attempted to eliminate divisiveness, but was thwarted by an intransigent Republican establishment, whereupon this divisiveness escalated with Obamacare. And here we are. In wanting to enforce immigration laws and prevent terrorist attacks by jihadists, President Trump has been called divisive.
So “divisiveness” has always been with us. This is, in fact, inherent to a democracy. And it is a good thing. After all, when you have complete uniformity of opinions, you no longer have a democracy. People who wail about the divisiveness in our society want us to all have the same opinions—theirs.
Conversely, look at the spectacle that has become rampant in American universities: insisting on conformity, and intellectuals who constantly babble about diversity and brag about being broadminded systematically persecuting and blackballing staff and students who publicly voice libertarian, independent, or conservative viewpoints. Look also at what passes for journalism in America these days: lynch journalism, and clone-like journalists piling on the individuals who voice “divisive” opinions.
Armando Simón lives in San Antonio and is the author of "A Cuban from Kansas," and, "The Only Red Star I Liked Was a Starfish."