Believing political parties would be bad for the future of the fledgling United States, some of our Founding Fathers, like Thomas Jefferson, distrusted them.
As students of history who’d studied the mechanics of the rise and fall of nations, our founders had good reasons to be apprehensive.
Time after time, they observed how members of one faction or another in various nations of the world had come to value party, or faction or tribe above all else, including the well being or continuity of their nation, and in so doing, tore their countries apart.
Under those powdered wigs, our founders were prescient.
Barely 80 years into the founding of the United States, the worst fears of the revolutionary generation came to pass, and largely because that generation had failed to deal with the thorny issue of founding a nation in independence from Great Britain with slavery still a part of its heritage. The consequence of that failure continued to dog the young nation into the haunted decades that preceded the Civil War, when people stopped talking to one another and took to screaming.
And then picked up clubs and guns.
Could it be happening again? That’s for you to judge.
But look around.
We hurl out the very names of the parties with which we disagree as insults. The word “compromise” has somehow become a synonym for cowardice. Politicians are labeled unprintable things for simply reaching across the aisle to forge solutions with their ideological opposites, solutions that people on all sides can live with. We have some who, to line their pockets with fat advertising revenue, promulgate theories they themselves know to be lies, heedlessly creating the conditions for internecine strife and bloodshed that will end us.
These are only a few of the signs of a democracy in decline.
So let me put before you a great truth about life: at one moment life demands the conservative mood, at another moment the liberal mood. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
Yes, we need the conservative. The shining instance is the mood prevails in early motherhood, when the mother is all about nurturing, protecting her infant. So many that go into the armed services, or into public services such as policing or firefightingare conservative. And God bless them. We need them.
But as the complement, we also need people who will push things forward, promote new ideas, leaving us as Americans to discard some of the more lunatic among those ideas. And God bless them. They may annoy us, but we also need them.
To show how the different moods work in tandem, or should, at some point, a mother has to release her child. If she can’t let go, pathologies may develop.
I have found that life’s master souls recognize truths like that.
The problem comes when people who come into the world and develop one way or the other start to believe that, because they have a mind that works in a particular way, everyone else should think like they do. And then come to insist that anyone who doesn’t think as they do is not only wrong, but a serpent to be crushed under the heel.
Older folks who grew up in a very different time and world quickly become objects of derision in the eyes of the young — disdainful of anyone who doesn’t immediately adopt their way of thinking. That has always seemed to me high arrogance, born in brains that have declared themselves the center of all truth, and every shading outside of that “center,” stupid.
We seem to have forgotten that no one person, or party, or faction is ever correct 100 percent of the time. Today, we are a nation of 350 million people, and too many of us seem to have forgotten that the true genius of this nation is, and always has been, compromise — when that is possible — even with people we really don’t like.
Compromise is not weakness, it’s not cowardice, it’s not betrayal. Our system, with its famous checks and balances, was founded on it. And in their most notable failure “to work something out” right at the beginning of things, our forefathers set the stage for a war in which their children and their children’s children would kill each other, in horrific numbers.
When we fail to work to find common ground, when there’s even a glimmer of hope of getting there because we and those who believe as we do “are absolutely right, by God, and those people over there are the devil,” we lose sight of what has made this nation great.
Working it out is the American way. Let’s get back to it.
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.