COLUMN: One Nation – Indivisible?
The Pledge of Allegiance is a simple, clear statement of our core beliefs as Americans. I remember reciting those words in school, every morning, from first grade on. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that first graders are deep philosophical thinkers, but I will tell you that among the very murky memories of 65 years ago, my recollection of facing that flag and repeating those words, every day, is crystal clear.
We don’t hear the Pledge as often these days, and when we do it often involves controversy. The words “under God” inserted in 1954 (I was then in the third grade) have been a lightning rod for recurring dissent and perhaps have been factor in the Pledge’s diminished visibility. But how about the words ‘one nation, indivisible…’? Is that now controversial as well?
I believe that we are a more divided nation than ever before. I can’t prove it statistically – but it sure feels that way.
Take the election of 2012. Essentially, Barack Obama’s narrow winning margin came from a cobbled-together coalition of voter factions whose single common denominator is dislike, distrust or envy of other factions - wealthy vs. everyone who is not wealthy, black vs. white, brown vs. white, single women vs. those supposedly waging war on them, the 47 percent, the 99 percent.
Of course this was the polar opposite of Obama’s inspirational, unifying hope and change theme of 2008. That’s no accident: it got him re-elected, and it speaks volumes about both the state of our nation and the state of politics.
Democrats scoff at the idea that they were playing class warfare or identity politics – they argue that the 2012 election was just like any election, a party vs. party slugfest. I don’t buy it. This race was fundamentally divisive – the dividers won, and having proved that dividing is politically effective they are moving now to nurture the divisions. We can expect these open wounds to remain part of our political landscape for a long time.
And Republicans are not exempt. Their nasty primary campaign opened rifts within the party that gave Obama a head start in the November elections and that continue today as a wholly unnecessary food fight between the tea party’ and establishment Republicans – two factions with far more in common than in dispute. And Republican ‘strategists’ openly debate how to change their game and build better coalitions of their own, for the next time around. Yikes!
I believe this is fundamentally a matter of leadership. Certainly the President does not cause – and cannot change – the tenor of discourse on main street America. But every leader casts a shadow, none more influential than that of the President of the United States. President Obama can wax eloquently about coming together as a nation, but his daily behavior tells an entirely different tale.
Obama passes no opportunity to pick fights, to demean, to diminish, and even to taunt those who disagree with his policies. As an example, when talking about the economy Obama’s usual context is not that he feels it important to protect all Americans from the devastating consequences of national economic collapse, but that he needs to protect the middle class (another of those factions) from the rapacious Republicans.
And it’s rubbing off – on other politicians, in the media, and into public conversation.
There seems to be no room left for dispassionate, constructive disagreement. Dislike the proposed legislation on gun control? Why you must not care about the safety of innocent little children!
Having lurched through a spectacularly unsuccessful first term, Obama’s been given the miraculous gift of another try, a do-over. He is obviously intent on using his second term to burnish his legacy – that’s fair enough – but he seems not to recognize that his legacy will ultimately be measured by achievement, not by fleeting favorability ratings or by political points scored.
Right now, the president is riding high. But he seems stuck in permanent campaign mode, with reflexive need to defeat the other side. The absurdity of his myopia, is that both winners and losers in that fight are all citizens of the same nation, the one he has the honor to lead. Can’t we opt for all winners?
It’s time for our president to reboot. Americans want cooperation and collaboration among our elected leaders. He can’t single-handedly change the tone, but he can make it clear by his words and deed that he’s now working for all Americans, for one nation, indivisible – a personal pledge of allegiance.Jack DeVine is a retired business executive who lives in Aiken.