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.