In recent times, I hear with greater frequency people asking how did we become a divided country? The question, perhaps, should not be how did we become divided, but were we ever united.
The division was never so overt as during the Civil War. The North and the South were at loggerheads, slavery being the primary issue. The war was horrific; the carnage unimaginable. A war between the states. This was a time when borderlines were not apparent to most citizens. Families and clans were often spaced between warring states. In most wars, the enemy is clearly defined- the “Other” can be identified with little difficulty. In our civil war, the enemy was us.
After four years of brutal fighting, the Confederate States, under their army’s leadership of General Robert E Lee, agreed to surrender. But the Civil War did not truly end with Lee signing the surrender documents at Appommatox in 1865. The Confederacy was broken, but it’s spirit lived on. It thrived under the banner of States’ Rights, and many of the horrors of slavery resurfaced in the form of Jim Crow laws, chain gangs and lynchings. The hatred for Blacks and the Northern aggressors who forced radical change in the old South never dissipated. And when the sons and daughters of the Confederacy migrated North and West, they took their hatred with them; the hatred is in their bones.
And I see it today. The forces that propelled Trump into office may have been in part an enthusiasm for a man who paradoxically has, for most of his life, been antipathetic to his supporters’ values. This is the grim reality we must face- the possibility that Trump’s minions are not inspired by a love for him, but indeed by a hatred for us. At first there may have been conscienable outliers; people so disgusted and disenchanted with the status quo that they gravitated to someone who would smash that status quo into a million pieces. But there have been two years to consider and reconsider their choice. If at this point, after being exposed to the hateful pettiness of their man; his contempt for science and institutions; his authoritarianism and his unabashed admiration for other authoritarians, then perhaps we should no longer waste time hoping for some divine union between them and us.
We should focus our energies on solidifying our coalitions, and not changing the hearts and souls of the opposition. We must stand apart, then stand together.
I think of the men and women who marched and died for some small measure of justice; of the struggles and sacrifices of the past. Progress is slow, but regression can move at blinding speed. The rock Sisyphus toiled uphill slipped from his grasp so easily. The gains made for justice have come hard.
We must be forever vigilant- if not, they will take it all away.