This is a must read. Arthur Brook’s focus on contempt does seem to capture the mood of the nation although I would posit, with all due respect to the Civil War, this is not the most polarizing period of American history. It may just be quibbling but the Reconstruction Period, the occupation of southern States by the Union Army and the results of both the national elections of 1876 and 1881 would suggest otherwise. Regardless, I would recommend a review of Jon Meacham’s thesis, “The Soul of America.” We HAVE been down this path before and have risen to the occasion to momentarily fix what ails us. It is during these times when we actually earn our self defining image of American Exceptionalism.
We have also had leaders that did not view compromise as a sign of weakness or selling out to the other side. If this attitude had prevailed during the time of the Constitutional Convention, there never would have been a nation as we know it. All in all, and even before the revolution, we have ALWAYS been a divided country. It has taken great leaders to develop the methods of bringing the population to the notion of compromise. Self-righteous indignation serves no one. H.W. Brands text: “Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants” outline what he perceives to be the greatest compromisers of our history. Their collective efforts served to at least postpone the civil war. Unfortunately, they all died in the 1850s.
I’m still of the opinion that part of our polarization is due to our collective ignorance in civics, governance and history. Since the 1970s education concerning these subject areas have greatly declined and have not been a central part of either K-12 or university curriculums. Memorizing dates and who authored what is hardly sufficient and does little to facilitate interest. Hence our cognition revolves around the here and now without the benefit of learning from the past. Thirty-second sound bites from our singular sources of information just continues to exasperate and already angry society. The genesis of our anger deserve a separate discussion.