America: Divided and Conquered?

Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, many of us got to see divisions arise in our nation which seemed unprecedented — at least until now. While the Vietnam War was percolating toward disaster, the struggle for civil rights was raging. Major cities were wracked with violent race riots, college campuses were generational battlegrounds between students and “the establishment” — only the battle wasn’t very fair since the establishment had the cops, clubs and tear gas. If all this seems like déjà vu in President Trump’s reign of error, there are plenty of good reasons.

Stoking the fires of civil dissension has long been recognized as the “divide and conquer” strategy military and political leaders have followed for thousands of years. Today’s political parties, for instance, have devolved from the goal of making the nation better for citizens of all political affiliations to a grim and pointless football game where the Red Republican team beats endlessly on the Blue Democrat team and vice-versa.

And while “bipartisanship” is slathered on efforts as a measure of their worth, just because both parties support bad ideas doesn’t make them good policies. If you doubt that, history is rife with examples, not the least of which are the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars and perhaps the most misnamed law ever, the Patriot Act. All those disasters drew “bipartisan support.”

It’s gotten so bad that when two members of different political parties actually talk to each other it’s lauded as some kind of miracle. But the truth, which is now lost in the smokescreen of accusations of “fake news” and endless blame-casting, is that it’s virtually impossible to deal with the issues facing a society as complex as ours without serious, sincere and respectful debate in the political arena.

 

The fact is, that’s exactly the model upon which our government was founded and intended to function. Citizens vote for those they think will represent their best interests. And make no mistake, there are a lot of different opinions on what those interests are. But once the votes are cast and counted, the winners go to a much different function in the policy arena — a function in which knowledge and diplomatic skills are vastly more necessary and useful than partisan cheerleading.

Unfortunately President Trump, with his total lack of political experience, hasn’t figured out the election cycle is over and it’s time to actually govern in the interest of all the people. Instead, he seems to thrive on sowing hatred and chaos, issuing vindictive executive orders out for no good reason except to undo what’s been done by his predecessors and with no vision or knowledge of what comes next. His health care debacle is the perfect example, throwing the nation and its citizens into vast uncertainty with no workable alternative to offer.

It’s gotten so bad that both former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama came out on the same day last week to denounce the tactics and direction of the Trump presidency — but were diplomatic enough to do so without actually naming the Divider-in-Chief.

If there’s a silver lining to the dark cloud hanging over America right now, it might be to remember what happened after the tumultuous events of the ’60s. We impeached a corrupt president, took a break from ill-advised foreign wars, passed landmark laws to protect the environment upon which all life relies, and instituted sweeping civil rights advances. The way it’s going, unless we want a future of division, pollution and hatred, we’re going to have to do that again — and the sooner, the better.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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