It is interesting to note that this year marks one hundred-fifty years since the start of the American Civil War, April 1861. What began with the bang and flash of cannon at Ft. Sumter, led to a wholesale change in the country that had formed not too far in the past. The sleeping dog of slavery, lying as it had at the feet of the Founding Fathers, tore loose from its chains, and wreaked a might vengeance upon the country. Families were divided and decimated. The poor fought for the rich. There was privation and disease, poverty and decadence. Dirty men fought and died while nattily dressed men harrumphed over the conduct of the war. A President, reluctant to end slavery, but given no choice but use it as a unifying cause, swept his foes from the field, only to have them exact final vengeance upon him. The last true shots would not be fired until the age of President Lyndon Johnson, who would enact sweeping Civil Rights legislation. Even today, the skirmishes are not truly over.
So as the anniversary day approaches, it is unsurprising that we find America at odds again, though the battle lines are not so neatly drawn as North and South. This pending war is being fought in the halls of legislation, in the medium of television, across the breadth of the planet via The Internet. It is a war that incorporates all the worst of human behavior, and at the same time, all that is forthright and true within our hearts. The sides are once more polarized, though it cannot be tied succinctly to one group. It is, instead, a confusing whorl of passions and prejudices, with battle lines so fluid as to be a jumble. If there is a constant in it, it is a fight between those who would look ahead to our destiny, and those who look behind, to pine for days passed. The tug of war between these forces may yet determine the continuation of our nation as the one conceived in freedom and liberty.
It is primarily a war of rhetoric. Each side loads up on harsh characterizations and half-truths, and hurls these written and verbal Molotov cocktails at each other, bent on driving the other back into oblivion. They only set aflame those caught in-between, igniting brush fires of incivility, where neighbor is set against neighbor, town against town, state against state, and group against group. Ardent supporters of both sides see only the necessity of bringing down the other's big guns, raining a merciless fire down upon the heads of the unwary. Teeth are set on edge and nerves are frayed; the bombardment, tepid at first, is picking up pace now, leading to an inevitable confrontation which will hopefully not become the actualized variants of the metaphors herein.
This is a war between liberals and conservatives, of every economic and social class. Both sides have locked in on the unreasonableness of the other, and the name-calling has begun: “wackos”, “bleeding-hearts”, “Teabaggers,” “Socialists,” etc. Discourse is now the furthest thing from anyone's mind; both sides gird for battle in the next Presidential election. They have swapped victories in the last two major elections, and now, each is determined to make gains in 2012.
What is lost in the run-up to this coming cataclysm of ideals is the true cost of the battles: the middle class and poor. Either way you look at it, they stand to lose. On the one hand, you have conservatives, hell bent on turning back a tide of “Socialism” in the name of “fiscal responsibility,” gutting entitlement programs and crippling the services that seek to protect and nourish the American citizenry, even as they line the pockets of the rich. On the other, you have liberals, shrieking over attempts to crush the social programs that have become part of the fabric of our nation, without realizing the true cost to future generations and with a lack of acknowledgement that much of this is being done in a haphazard, wasteful, and untenable fashion. Neither side is willing to admit that it was they who had a hand in this, as if some mysterious third party causes legislation to appear out of thin air.
What is happening here, is that all sides are losing focus on the truly troubling aspects of this uncivil fight, for what we are seeing is the rise of forces that had been in check until recently, but now have unfurled their banners in the full light of day: bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-social violence. Where it is called out, there is fervent denial; where it is tolerated, those forces hold sway. It is not enough to be against these things if they are allowed to go on unchecked, if we are not going to hold the parties responsible to account.. It is not just a question of law, but of social responsibility; we, The People, are the best force to police the malevolent influences that seek to infiltrate our communities.
We must decide that the problems our nation faces – high unemployment, rampant over-spending, poverty, drug abuse, poor educational standards, budget deficits, foreclosures – are not fodder for talking points and diatribes, but things requiring our best efforts at comprehensive solutions. We can no longer run on the patchwork of stopgaps that seem to be the stock-in-trade of Federal and State legislators. We can no longer tolerate the mortgaging of our future to maintain a broken status quo in the present. We can no longer allow large swaths of American business and industry to neglect their fiduciary responsibility to a nation that allows them the freedom to their business here. We can no longer allow wealth to drain into a tiny but deep pool, when that wealth is generated off the sweat of the brow of the average American. We can no longer turn a blind eye to how the things we do affect not just ourselves, but everyone else on the planet. We must stop using the excuse that “politicians are just crooks,” when we have the power to elect forthright, learned, and above-all, responsive individuals to places of authority.
This uncivil war is coming about but because we have ceased caring, about ourselves and others. We elect the same mountebanks over and over, and are shocked when we do not get better results. We listen to them, without taking the time to mull over what they say, and pick it apart for ourselves. We take our news canned and prepackaged, never questioning the motives of those who hand it to us, seasoned with their own personal prejudices. We do not think for ourselves, and that is the greatest crime against our very own nation. The Founding Fathers expected us to care as deeply as they did about the country they fought so hard to assemble, but they did not reckon with over two hundred years of innovation and development, stripping away the will of the people and substituting the will of the rich and the members of the corporate boardrooms.
Are we to be the fodder for the cannonades of ill-will and partisanship? Are we to be the collateral damage in the unceasing skirmishes over who is right and who is wrong? Are we to stand idly by, as small groups of individuals usurp our power? Are we going to continue the same old habits, the same old patterns, until they have drained of us every thing we have worked so hard to build up? When are we going to stop letting others dictate the terms, and take back the power that is rightfully ours?
We cannot throw up our hands, anymore. We have to take a cold, hard look at our reality, and make some important decisions. We have to stop living by the words and actions of zealots, and start living by the words of the reasonable and compassionate. We can keep this war from reaching a frenzied pitch if we choose to stand up for ourselves and the core values of our nation: freedom, liberty, justice for all. We have the power to make the decisions that shape our nation, not cabals in party back rooms, not partisans in newsrooms, not greedy tycoons in boardrooms. If this nation is going to prevent a conflagration, and pull itself out of the mire into which it has fallen, then it is up to each and every American of good conscience to stand up, cast aside the false patriots, and take control of the nation back from the interests that ruining it. No one will do it for us. That was the way it was meant to be.