Abraham Lincoln took his inspiration from the Bible in his famous “house divided” speech – declaring that a house divided cannot stand. Today’s America is a house divided and has been so for decades – and the tensions are growing.
On the surface, the divisions are played out between Republicans and Democrats or between conservatives and liberals. But those are only the manifestations of the fundamental divide – the culture. America is losing, or may have already lost, the unifying culture that had defined American Exceptionalism for more than 200 years.
For many years, historians, sociologists and political scientists have warned of the evolution away from a unifying culture based on commonly accepted values. It is more than the cleaving of two major governing philosophies. It is the shattering of America into competing interest groups. It was once referred to as “Balkanization” – a reference to the ever-warring nations of the east European Balkan region. More contemporarily, it is seen as tribalization. Regardless of the term, it means a loss of common culture.
America started off with a strong common culture of individual freedom, limited federal government, monetary and fiscal responsibility and the inalienable rights of “we the people.” The common culture bred pride and unity that advanced America beyond all expectations. It made us the envy of the world.
It is arguable that the sin of slavery was a moral virus that led to the first challenge to national unity. The Civil War divided America like nothing before and nothing since – a division that played out between north and south, between Republicans and Democrats.
While the war ended in keeping with our culture that “all men are created equal,” it did not settle the issue of equality and did not end a two-culture nation. That division was evident for another 100 years as the old Confederacy in the “solid Democrat” southland clung to an immoral, illegal and unconstitutional system of racial separation and oppression. More subtle de facto racist policies of the urban Democrat machines continue to maintain an inner-city version of the same separation — a problem that remains to this day.
As pernicious as it was, by the mid-1900s, the racial divide was beginning to heal. The laws against segregation were finally imposed. Blacks were taking their place in the mainstream and doing what every immigrant population had done before them – assimilate. The fact that Africans did not immigrate to America voluntarily was a major factor in inhibiting assimilation. In fact, the racist southern and urban policies made assimilation virtually impossible.
Just as this positive trend of black/white assimilation was taking root, a new socio-political concept arrived on the scene – one even more shattering than the bifurcated black and white issue of race. It came in the misnomer of “political correctness” – more recently dubbed “identity politics.” It was a byproduct of the ascendency of an increasingly more radical left-wing philosophy in the 1960s.
The idea of seeking equality was replaced with seeking advantage. One group’s win had to be a loss for another group. While no one can deny that blacks lacked access to jobs, it is equally true that affirmative action programs and quotas created an unequal system in reverse. While it was legitimately intended to bring parity to employment, it was still based on systemic inequality. Like many government programs, it outlived its purpose and created a tribal backlash.
Political correctness and identity politics were the natural causes of the political left, ergo the Democratic Party, because they required strong central government policies to orchestrate the redistribution of wealth and referee the competitive issues between categories of Americans.
The black and white schism, which was on the mend, was joined by a series of additional bipolar political and social conflicts as the result of political correctness. Rather than a united culture in the spirit of e pluribus unum, America was being divided in a series of competing classes – women against men, gay against straight, religious against the secular, young against old, rich against poor, city against rural and the ever-present black against white. As the common ground diminishes, we lose the intramural society and become intermural societies.
While American cultural traditionalists embrace the melting pot analogy, where each new immigrating group assimilates in the overarching American culture – adding some of their unique cultural customs to the mix. The identity politics of progressivism views America as a bucket of rocks – white, black, brown, yellow and red – never to meld into a common culture.
Just as the black community was beginning to assimilate into the common culture through social mobility, inter-racial marriage and the breaking down of racist barriers to full participation, Jesse Jackson called for blacks to develop an Afro-centric identity. Suddenly blacks, who have an ancestral history in North American that goes back hundreds of years were encouraged to see themselves as a culture apart for the basic American culture – as reflected in clothes, hairstyles and names. Kwanza was an invented holiday to reflect and celebrate a black culture celebration apart from the mainstream American holidays.
The designations of African American and “black” are political designations that defy logic and biology. Only people who look like a Negro can be an African American – but not others from the African continent such as white Afrikaners or Arabs. Even those with majority Caucasian genes who have Negro physical characteristics are deemed to be black.
The Latin community also suffers from a change in Identity for political purposes. Unlike blacks, who have little knowledge of their true national background, the Latin community has very clear national cultures – Mexican, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Peruvian and so forth. Each has very distinctive customs, styles, food and dance. Politically, however, they are collectively treated as Hispanics – the brown rock.
In each case, identity politics is played by pitting an alleged privileged class against the induced sense of victimization by an alleged oppressed class. Though the largest percentage of Americans maintain traditional cultural values of personal freedom and limited government, they have become increasingly balanced off by the combined power of those designated as victim classes. In recent years, thanks to political correctness, the Balkanizers have reached parity with the one-America culture advocates – hence the divided nation we have today.
In many ways, political correctness and its operating system, identity politics, are the creatures they purport to oppose. Their foundation is stereotyping and profiling. The create enemies by class in the same way it occurred in the days of slavery and segregation.
Except for the black community, we have always been a Republic based on majority rule with minority protections. But the sovereignty of the majority can be subjected to minority rule – the governing system of dictatorships in which an elitist class rules over the masses.
Political correctness and identity politics have shattered the American common culture by elevating competing subcultures to political supremacy. In a Balkanized or tribal system, equality gives way to special privilege, such as affirmative action. The entire concept of “hate crimes” is based on providing special privilege to those designated as “protected classes.” When a crime against a black, woman or gay is determined to be more serious and consequential than the same crime against a white, a man or a straight person we see the unfair and unequal influence of identity politics.
When society accepts the notion that the accusations of a woman must be believed without being subjected to due process and the rule of law, the scales of justice are imbalanced in favor of the class with special protections and benefits.
When the legitimate protection of gay rights extends to needless trampling on the religious rights of all Americans, the inalienable rights enumerated in the Constitution are rendered meaningless.
When educational institutions administratively limit free speech based merely on opinion – vulgar as it may be expressed – and government officials propose to criminalize opinion – as has happened in the case of the climate change debate — we move closer to the type of conduct that characterizes authoritarian rule.
When contrary to the Tenth Amendment of our Constitution, the rights of our several states are denied by an increasingly more powerful, more distant, more unaccountable, more regulatory and more costly federal government, the promised power of citizen sovereignty is greatly diminished.
Since identity politics creates competition between groups, selfishness supplants sacrifice in the culture. The acquisition of wealth and political power for oneself or one’s group becomes more important than a sense of generosity of spirit and deed. The civil discourse of a common culture becomes coarse, vulgar and hostile between groups.
As our American culture of personal freedom, rugged individualism, free enterprise and the ability to achieve based on merit, capability and accomplishment give way to collectivism, redistribution of wealth and governmental elitism based on the provocation and manipulation of identity groups, we the people no longer rule. Our so-called public servants become our public masters.
Disrespect for the American flag, the National Anthem and our military are all symptoms of the loss of common culture because they are the essential symbols of our unity. Burning flags, kneeling during the Anthem and attacking the men and women who defend the nation are all repudiations of the common culture no matter the cause.
If we are no longer the beacon of hope and freedom to the world, it is not because of what we do, but what we have become. Political correctness and identity politics is nothing less than the slow-motion decline of the traditional American culture based on maximum personal freedom. We are gradually losing American Exceptionalism. Political correctness and identity politics are the viruses that destroy our national connective tissue. E Pluribus Unum is replaced with prima mihi.