The State of the Union
There is a feeling of tension that now resides over the United States. This tension is felt in many different ways and in many disparate places, but it has one cause: division. The United States feels more divided now than at almost any other time in its history. Division among politics and such is not new by any means, but this new aura feels very different. This breed of tension seems very unfamiliar and much more severe.
What would cause such unfamiliarity and severity? If we are accustomed to politic strife, why should this moment feel so novel? To say the country is divided is to beg the question: what is the country divided over? In the past, divisions in the United States were much less severe, implying the subject of division itself was much less severe. However, the intensity of present division implies a corresponding intensity in the subject of this division.
During times of relative unity in the country, political division was contained within a certain set of assumptions. Everyone generally agreed the United States was a fundamentally good country and its ideals were worth upholding. Because there was relative agreement on fundamental premises of political debate, any disagreement was a question of how to best implement these ideas into society. The question is not about the “what” or “why”, but the “how”.
As long as debate stays within the arena of a common foundation, there is an inherent limit to how deep divisions can run. The range of opinion is therefore limited. There are only so far apart ideas can be. However, once those fundamental principles are abandoned, those limits disappear.
This is the situation that is facing the United States today. There is no longer basic agreement over whether the core ideas of the United States are good. Because of this fact, there is no longer the foundational agreement on principles that existed throughout most of America’s past. It is this new disagreement that has led to the deep political divide, and subsequent feeling of tension, that we experience today.
Division itself is not the fullest extent of the problem, however. We have deep division, but only one government. We must elect leaders through democratic processes. Herein lies the real problem. No matter the outcome, one side will be very unhappy with the results. Whoever wins office, particularly the presidency, they will have their faction satisfied for the length of their tenure, while the other side is left to sulk in defeat.
Now, this has always been the results of any democratic process. One side gets their candidate elected while the other side loses. There is no situation where everyone is happy at the end of the day. However, with a deep level of polarization comes with heightened reactions to the results of elections. Where there is foundational agreement on principles, disappointment at the results of an election can only go so far, as you would still believe in the same core principles as the candidate of the opposing party. However, when the candidate of the opposing party does not believe in the same core principles as you, your dissatisfaction with the results of the election will be magnified to a much greater extent.
The summation of all of this results in the political and cultural environment we have today. As a country, we are very much divided as a result of fundamental disagreements over core questions about what America is and what America should be. However, someone has to be elected and installed in office. The other side will be very dissatisfied in the event their candidate loses. The Democrats spent the last four years very dissatisfied very the presidency of Donald Trump, and if Biden is installed as president, there is little doubt the Republicans will be less than thrilled to have him as president the next four years.
Given the problems the United States is facing, what solutions are available? First, we must recognize that to truly “fix” this problem, the root issue must be addressed. The root issue are the fundamental differences in what the United States is and should be. The only way we could “fix” this issue is if we could somehow bring about a resolution by one side, or both sides coming closer to the other so that they are much closer in agreement.
Is this likely to happen, or even feasible? I have strong doubts about the prospects for reconciliation on this fundamental level. Without any reversal in the causes for fundamental division, coming back to a position of agreement is unlikely. Once a certain level of divide exists, that gap is difficult to bridge. Just by looking around at the cultural climate in the US today, one can see how great this divide has become.
This is not to say that it will never happen, but I see no reason why there should be a drift back together any time in the near future. One can hope for an eventual reconciliation, but there is little more than hope for this outcome.
If reconciliation of core values is out of our reach, what other solutions do we have? Even if there is fundamental disagreement, could those two sides still co-exist? Could there be unity even in the face of core differences? Again, I have serious doubts. Unity in the face of differences requires that even in defeat, belief in the system in place still resides as being the highest objective. What matters most are the institutions in place and the processes that the nation has decided upon. However, with foundational disagreements, there is not agreement that the system itself is even good or desirable. Why should there be unity over a system of institutions when there is no agreement about those instructions?
Unity in the face of personal differences requires belief in something greater than those differences. However, it is those higher values which are being called into question. In such a situation, unity is a quixotic goal at best.
Given there cannot be reconciliation of differences, nor unity in the face of those differences, have we now exhausted all solutions? Not necessarily, but all optimal solutions are now eliminated. Once we have ruled out any options of unity, the only alternative is disunity. The “good” options are now off the table.
If options of disunity are the only choices left, what paths forward do we have? We could fight our differences out until the winner subjugates the loser. The more common term for a conflict of this kind is a “civil war”. I am sure the gravity of this path is not lost on the reader. A civil war has already been fought once before in the United States and it did not end quickly or without much bloodshed. With modern weapons, the bloodshed would be increased manyfold and any “victory” would be wholly pyrrhic, and a victory only in name.
If it is at all possible, this option must be avoided, no matter the consequences of the alternatives.
To avoid this outcome, we must embrace the only option left. This is the course of total disunity. This would take place through a breakup of the United States. How exactly this breakup occurs could be more or less peaceful, depending on the attitude of the federal government towards the secessionists. This breakup would likely take place through individual states breaking off from the union, potentially joining together with other states to form new unions.
Of course, this would mean be that the United States as we know it would cease to exist. After all, the states would no longer be united. As unfortunate an outcome as that would be, I see little choice in the matter. Any paths of unity are impossible, and will ultimately lead to failure. A civil war must be avoided at all costs. If all other possibilities are eliminated, than the only remaining option must be chosen.
The division and conflict in the US are often referred to as a “culture war”. Although one could argue the divisions run deeper than culture, it is a fairly apt description. If we apply this term to our analysis, we can divide our options into three sections. We may try to disarm the culture war and come together as a country. These are our options of unity. We may decide to fight the culture war until one side wins. This is our option of a civil war. We may decide recognize our differences and go our separate ways without a fight. This is the option of total disunity.
Currently, we are trying the options of unity. Despite trying to come together in spite of our differences, the divides are only growing ever stronger. This option is doomed to failure, the only question being when that failure will be laid clear. This path is tragically unsustainable.
When this option fails, what path will be chosen next? It seems as if we are already sliding into the path of civil war. Already, we see amateur militias, such as “Antifa” and the “Proud Boys”, fighting in cities where protests take place. This fighting is more akin to a cold war, as the combat is mostly limited to just scuffling between individuals. However, the mere fact that politically-driven groups are fighting in the streets should be concerning at the least.
The damage a civil war would deal to this country cannot be overstated. It is an unthinkable outcome. However, if we are not aware and careful, we unknowingly may slip into it. If we are to avoid it, we must be open and honest about a national divorce. Nobody wants to see the end of the United States, but there is no longer much unity in the states.
It is vital that in the situation we find ourselves in today that we be blunt and honest. National unity is no longer a viable option, and that fact will become very obvious in due time. This leaves two options. We fight, or we put down our weapons and go our separate ways. This is our reality, albeit an unfortunate reality to face. We are left with no good options, and our fate is resigned to which evil we deem to be lesser. However, we must make a choice before the poison is picked for us.