The meme gets hammered into our heads from all around us. We are a nation divided. It’s obvious when you look at the map of the Electoral College and see all those red and blue states. It might as well be black and white. Just look at the popular vote and you see a nation split almost 50/50.
You hear it from the pundits. Our nation is on the brink of collapse because the other half of it is completely out of their minds. What’s going to happen? Will the country fall into Civil War? Will there be rioting in the streets? Increased violence along partisan lines? Will America come apart at the seams because half of the country has it so incredibly wrong?
I have to laugh every time this “Nation Divided” meme pops up in the media, and as much as it does appear, I’m laughing a lot. Emphasizing the split in the electorate is such a manipulative play on us citizens. It had me going for quite some time, until I thought about who benefits from us believing this bit of nonsense.
A phrase often repeated in this 2004 election cycle is “fundamental differences.” Each campaign uses this term in order to distinguish their candidate from their opponent. It’s important for the campaigns to constantly remind us that “fundamental differences” exist between the two Presidential candidates, because otherwise we, the public, would not know this.
From the debates this season we know the candidates both believe in strong homeland defense, forging alliances with the rest of the world against terrorism, spreading freedom and democracy, and maintaining America’s leadership status in the eyes of the world. They both want to see a strong economy, access to health care, education, and support of the common good. These are things the candidates wholly agree on.
Where the candidates disagree is on the best methods for achieving these principles. They dispute the timing of the Iraq War, but they both agree that we cannot fail in Iraq. They dispute the tactics used in Afghanistan, but agree that we cannot fail there either. They disagree on the best method for engaging Iran and North Korea in disarmament, but they agree it must be done.
Such differences between the candidates are purely secondary in nature, peripheral. They are nit-picking the details of how to attain our common fundamental objectives. How can so many people characterize us as a Nation Divided, when we agree so strongly on the fundamentals? A common foundation of common principles does not a fractured country make.
We must remember that it serves the needs of the two-party system to emphasize their differences. They must exaggerate their disputes in order to distinguish themselves and split the electorate. If they can define themselves as polar opposites, this will whip their supporters into a frenzy against the other side’s irrationality and lack of principles. It’s easier to unite a political base against a common enemy, then it is to unite it under a common ideology.
What’s more fun to watch, a well-reasoned, deeply-intellectual and finely-nuanced debate between two highly-educated academics or someone throwing a chair at a talk show host’s face? Which is more instantly gratifying? Which sort of entertainment gets more television play?
The “Nation Divided” meme achieves a more visceral reaction in the viewer. Like murders, terrorism, war, riots, and other sensationalist, attention-grabbing stories, the “Nation Divided” characterization promotes a sense of urgency, of conflict boiling just below the surface of American life. It holds the promise of an explosion of violence that keeps us tuned into the news, lest we not know when it’s coming.
News Networks are failing in their responsibility to provide perspective. Instead of accurately describing America as a country divided over who should be President, they reduce us to a NATION DIVIDED, but we are actually a nation undecided. We are split half-and-half over which of the two individuals being offered as choices, out of the 300 Million of us, is more capable of competently managing our common foreign diplomacy, military engagements, economic welfare, public welfare, healthcare, national security, civil rights, public education, federal road systems, scientific research, world trade, so on and so on.
Is it any wonder, with the smokescreens, misrepresentation of the facts, red herrings, personal attacks, and other rhetorical abuses so pervasive in our Presidential campaigns that Americans are so evenly divided over who’s the best person to fill the position as leader of the free world? This is the only issue dividing us, and like the peripheral issues the candidates nit-pick, it is secondary to the fundamental principles we all share.
These United States
When I look at the maps of the electorate and see this 50/50 split in how they intend to vote, I do not see a nation divided. I see a nation so closely united that it cannot make up its mind. That is a fantastic thing, to think that our candidates and our parties are so similar that the electorate could so easily go either way. We are evenly divided, and in a political environment where we are only permitted two choices, even proportions of support going to each side is symptomatic of a Nation resting smack-dab in the middle.
I love to eavesdrop on my coworkers discussing politics, liberal and conservative. They are respectful, sensitive, willing to concede the problems with their candidate and point out where they disagree with the other candidate. These are not sworn enemies on a battleground locked in some epic deathgrip, but citizens living in the same society, sharing an equal concern for our common well-being.
You know what I see in these thoughtful discussions? I see a population smarter than its government. I see people struggling to maintain faith in a political system that insults their intelligence. These people are the human face of our political system, that thing the media never has to face and our politicians never seem to respect.
All Americans agree on the same principles. Were we split along fundamental lines then the candidates would reflect this. We agree on democracy, equality, America as a leader in the world, fighting terrorism, ending oppression, supporting the public good, educating our children, and guaranteeing quality of life for all our citizens.
This is America, a Nation United with all of its citizens agreeing on these basic principles. We simply nit-pick the degree to which we should pursue these things and the methodology for achieving them.
Why unnecessarily exaggerate our differences? It’s far easier to persuade an opponent when we stipulate our commonalities, put them aside, and then tackle our differences honestly and respectfully. It’s much more efficient than approaching everyone who disagrees with us as being bereft of principles, un-America, or ideologically buffoonish. We could never hope to persuade such mythological beasts to our various viewpoints. How lucky for us that such boogey-men don’t exist, leaving us to enjoy reasonable debate with our neighbors in a celebration of Democracy.
Happy 2004 Election everyone!