Other’s Opinion: Civility: Republic threatened by divisions

Published 5:02 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Free Press, Mankato

Americans can agree: We’re deeply divided.

From letters to the editor, to nasty emails and social media postings, the evidence is clear: We not only disagree with each other, we mostly don’t like each other. And the reasons seem to center around politics and political discourse of the recent environment.

Historian and presidential biographer Jon Meacham notes this is somewhat of anomaly in American political life and one that threatens our democratic form of republican government. But he also notes we’ve been here before and came out on top.

The causes of our discord are many. The candidacy of ex-President Donald Trump was not the cause of the current division, but it was the fuel. The fuel that energized a reckoning and assessment among millions of Americans who either felt left behind economically or ignored socially, religiously and morally.

So we can blame Trump if we want, but without the tapping of those darker parts of the American soul, the grievances stay beneath the surface. That’s not a positive.

Many Americans are asking if it has “ever been this bad” in our history,

In an interview in 2018 with National Public Radio, Meacham points to other periods of history where it has “been this bad.” Reconstruction after the Civil War and the administration of President Andrew Johnson was a darker period after Lincoln’s peak with the Emancipation Proclamation. Meacham notes Johnson was a “bully” and “self-absorbed” and made “self-pitying speeches,” not unlike Trump.

In 1877 came Rutherford B. Hayes, who Meacham says compromised and pulled federal troops of out the South, which led to decades of discrimination and racism.

The reign of terror of Sen. Joe McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, in the 1950s was another low point. McCarthy gave rousing speeches like Trump but had the more genuine fear of communism as his well from which to drink. He ruined a lot of careers and lives with his innuendo.

Remarkably, the media, notably Edward R. Murrow, eventually stood up to McCarthy and didn’t just repeat the lies he told, but pushed him on the truth and exposed his lies. An episode of Murrow’s famous “See it Now” called out McCarthy directly. By 1954, four years of hysteria were over.

Facts matter today as well. But unfortunately, facts do not easily find their way to the masses. They must traverse barriers of social media, unscrupulous and partisan cable news stations and traveling salvation shows. These barriers were non-existent in the 1950s.

So what can be done to form a more civil discourse and the more perfect union we all committed to from grade school when we pledged allegiance to the flag for a nation indivisible?

First, we have to agree on the facts. We have to agree it’s either raining or the sun is out. Next, we have to respect our differences of opinion after we agree to the facts. There are no false opinions, only bad conclusions.

And finally, as Meacham says, we have to make hope stronger than fear. We’ve overcome the dark days of our history with that value, and it should be one with which we can all agree.