Friday, June 08, 2012

The Great Divide

Our recent river trip through Germany took us across a continental divide.  While not so grand as the North American continental divide (think the Rockies), the rise took us from sea level at the North Sea to the Black Sea.  To traverse this continental divide we traveled through a series of locks, first rising bit by bit, then—after crossing the divide—descending the same distance. 

So, why this musing on the European continental divide?  Well, I am deeply troubled these days by the great divide that has grown in the U.S. over the past decade or so, that only seems to be deepening.  Part of what troubles me is trying to think how we might extricate ourselves from our current poisonous political environment and find a way to move forward as a country.  And the analogy of the series of locks to traverse the continental divide came to mind.  Isn’t that what we have lost?  Locks operate by incremental movement.  Need to achieve a rise of several hundred feet (or meters)?  You can do so by moving up a few feet or meters at a time.

I recently heard Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, who have collaborated on a recent book with the intriguing though depressing title of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, note that presently in the U.S. the Republicans in Congress are functioning as though we have a parliamentary system.  Allegiance to the party’s mindset overcomes and “trumps” any thought of working together or compromise.

I can’t claim to have thought nearly as elegantly or as compelling as that observation, but it did strike me early on in President Obama’s presidency that some Republican leaders had hit upon a perfect way to defeat him.  Senate Minority Leader McConnell announced, practically from day one, that his only goal was to make Obama a one term president.  To accomplish that—block every initiative put forth by the president. 

While we have had previous times in our history where the country has been pulled this way and that by hyper-partisanship, today’s impasse strikes me as coming close to what led to our Civil War. 

Many issues seem to be at the heart of the great divide.  We battle over how to spend government money, we battle over how to raise government money.  We have elected officials who are badgered by non-elected self-appointed guardians of democracy who extract pledges never to raise taxes, before the elected official even takes office.  We have values issues, where one group's values become the dictates to another group’s freedom of conscience.  We have issues where choice means you cannot choose, and other issues where choice means you can opt out of public participation in something as basic as education.

And so I come back to the great divide.  I confess to a great heaviness of heart.  What does this ever-widening chasm portend for our country?  Forgive my Cassandra tone, but I am looking, very seriously looking, for someone who can lead us toward the locks that gently elevate us, and then lower us—to help us cross the great divide.


Anvilcloud said...

Since the Republicans must thwart any and all Democratic initiatives, you probably need a moderate Republican leader. The thing is that a moderate could never win a leadership race.

Climenheise said...

I share your discouragement. the values divide is the deepest, I think. For example, the definition of any opposition to same sex marriage as "homophobic" makes any movement difficult -- or impossible. Similarly, defining any support for abortion as murder makes any movement difficult -- or impossible. Forcing people to change by calling them hateful or murderous rarely brings about real change. we need to find ways to discuss real and significant differences without making the other into monsters.

Ginnie said...

In my 79 years I have never seen such stubborness on the part of our elected officials. I remember when compromise was not a dirty word and things actually got accomplished...Democrats and Republicans debating and then going out for dinner together.
I think that prejudice and hatred of the blacks is just below the surface & is much more prevelant than anyone wants to admit in this election year. We'd better get over that because we "pure" "God-fearing" "whites" are quickly becoming the minority here as we already are in the rest of the world.
Whatever happened to "love thy neighbor?"

NCmountainwoman said...

I never dreamed I would see the devisiveness we have in Congress. And never would I have believed that every single subject now seems to become politicized in some way. I am very afraid for our Nation. And for all of us.

BTW: Don't forget we also have an Eastern Continental Divide here in our mountains. Also not as impressive as the Rockies.

KGMom said...

AC--I share your observation that a moderate can't win. To win a primary in the U.S. a candidate has to appeal to the far extreme of the party.

Daryl--I would go one step further than finding ways to discuss. We need to relearn that just because we believe something, we shouldn't force that belief on someone else.

Ginnie--I appreciate your long view--but it is sad, isn't it, that you have not seen the like before.

NC MntWmn--yes, there are several places where the watershed changes. When we drive to New Jersey, we pass a sign that points out that we are leaving the Chesapeake Watershed and entering the Delaware Watershed. And of course there's the Mississippi.

JeanMac said...

Well said

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

From a distance I have grieved over the state the US social and political system has reached. American idealism and pragmatism once lead the way forward for many peoples and nations. Sadley not longer.