One Nation…United?

As our nation struggles to remain whole – with discussion of secession growing and extremism begetting more extremism – partisanship looks to be one of the toughest obstacles our nation faces, especially in the aftermath of one of the most destructive presidencies of our nation’s history.

The+American+flag+still+serves+as+a+symbol+of+unity+--+in+a+time+where+some+Americans+feel+most+divided.

Jonathan Simcoe / Unsplash

The American flag still serves as a symbol of unity — in a time where some Americans feel most divided.

2020: The year of mishaps. Celebrity deaths, murder hornets, dust storms, and COVID-19 have defined this past year for us, among many other things. The presidential election, in particular, is definitely one for the record books – with constant interruptions and insults on both sides, the election represented much of the political scope of 2020, which now hangs by a thin, creaking rope. Many experts have noted that America is at a climax of tension between political parties, and constituents can see it wherever they look, culminating in the January 6th, 2021 storming of the Capitol by President Trump’s supporters.

The increased participation in protests, the increase in anti-protests, the division between friends and family members, and – more positively – the historical voter turnout, all point to greater political involvement in the United States. People are standing by their socio-political ideologies and not turning a blind eye towards actions that they oppose. But with this, many people are also becoming more aggressive with their words and actions, and demanding the same of their friends and family. The idea that “politics stays in politics” is being tested. America is in a state of intense division, and the remedy for unison does not seem clear at all.

The idea of secession from the union has become more commonplace. Quite recently, on December 7th, 2020, Texas Republic Attorney General, Kyle Biedermann stated, “I am committing to file legislation this session that will allow a referendum to give Texans a vote for the State of Texas to reassert its status as an independent nation.” Biedermann’s reasoning was that “the federal government is out of control and does not represent the values of Texans.”

Texas GOP member, Allen West, expressed this same sentiment on Friday, December 10th, 2020, suggesting, “perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.” One can assume West’s idea of abiding by the constitution is abiding to his interpretation of the constitution, likely a more conservative, Republican agenda.

Despite the threat of secession, few people see it as a viable – or genuine – occurrence. “Absolutely not gonna happen. Drama – drama – drama!” said Diane Steiker, junior Advanced Placement United States History, and 9th grade Global History teacher, “[It is] the last vestige of a southern mindset on American politics. It’s the same people fighting [against] the BLM movement – they are preserving their ‘republic’ because they are losing ground (stressed).” Jakob De Swaan Aarons ’22, feels a similar way, calling the idea “ridiculous,” and noting that an attempt at secession would likely cause them to be “reunionized by the might of the American military they used to tout.”

Whether or not secession will actually occur, is another matter, and not likely, due to the opposition the prospect received initially. However, the fact that Texas politicians have presented the idea, and with such fervor against democrats – likely propelled by President Trump’s rhetoric – indicates a huge standstill of bipartisan division within our country in the aftermath of Trump’s presidency. 

“Historically, Americans were always divided on factional interests,” explains Diane Steiker, junior Advanced Placement United States history teacher and ninth grade Global History teacher, “but the philosophical dialectic has always had an impact on policy (Progressivism).” In other words, before Trump, political discourse has typically led itself to social reform, instead of the riots and division amid citizens and politicians that we now see it become. “With Trump leaving the White House, politicians will be able to return to more substantive debates on what the ‘greatest good’ means – substantive reasoning of what is best for society.” 

With this division came distracted politicians, and instead of focusing on the people, greater focus landed on themselves and other politicians. With these politicians neglecting their duties as leaders, we see a crumbling nation in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Even before the arrival of COVID-19 in March 2020, the United States was becoming a more treacherous place.

The past four years under the Trump administration have seen an uptick in hate crimes, and studies have shown that such an increase is directly related to Trump’s rhetoric. Under President Trump, there emerged a new tolerance for borderlines of prejudices. These borderlines constitute micro-aggressions, biased thoughts and phrases, indirect racism or sexism, and in some cases, outright racism or sexism, which also characterizes Trump’s rhetoric. The surge in hate crimes committed relative to Trump’s rhetoric, and the increase in bullying in schools across America since the election of 2016, has been dubbed the ‘Trump Effect’ by psychologists and social science researchers.

To understand it deconstructively, the president’s choice of words define what is considered okay in our society. Biased citizens have grown more comfortable embracing the inherent racism or sexism they have grown to live with, because not only did a man who exemplified such beliefs hold office, but the American people placed him there. In other words, as noted by experts Edward Griffith, Assistant Professor of Department of Marketing, Industrial Distribution & Economics at University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Stephen Rusin of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, “it was not just Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric throughout the political campaign that caused hate crimes to increase. Rather… it was Trump’s subsequent election as President of the United States that validated this rhetoric in the eyes of perpetrators and fueled the hate crime surge.”(1). Trump’s security in the White House and continued pursuit of divisive diction served to be the foundation for the ensuing violence perpetrated by white supremacist and extremist groups that sprouted under his administration. 

And now, with a new declared winner of the presidential election, Joseph Biden, and a president still unwilling to admit his loss, it is even more evident that America has undergone some serious changes relative to its political atmosphere. For one, tensions are high – not just among politicians and offices, but among states, and among citizens. Friends and family members have suffered and severed ties over political arguments. The extremes of each side of the political spectrum have developed and are more passionate than ever. Trump may have incited his followers to riot and storm the Capitol on January 6th, 2021.

Concerning the relative state of the nation, political factions are widening, and the main worry many have is if our nation will ever return to civility. Episodes like the 2020 presidential election and the recent storming of the Capitol showcase how far we have come from a civil nation. Meanwhile, our nation’s image worsens in the eyes of other countries. Under half the population of European countries, like the United Kingdom (41%), France (31%) and Germany (26%) have a favorable opinion of America. Of 13 nations surveyed by Pew Research Center, a mere average of 15% felt America responded well to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

But all is not lost for the future of our nation, despite the world’s – and many of our own’s – distaste. Revolution starts with the people. “I have faith that as people are able to see the other side of their position – where the rich and middle class are able to see that any day they could be poor – fallen to disease or addiction – out of a job – or biased based on their race and gender, [then] Americans can be more empathetic to the experience of the underclass – [and] the way we look at society and government will change,” said Steiker. She also notes what attitude plagues our nation in terms of sociopolitical inequity: “It is the person that says – ‘the underclass are morally deficient – they have opportunity but spit on it’ – that thinking keeps systematic racism, misogyny and cultural bias in place.”

Steiker brings up a golden idea – empathy. The lack of empathy in our nation – and the presence of apathy instead – is what allows injustice to persist on all levels of society, from the mere micro-aggressions, to the victims of hate crime, to the caged children at borders, to the innocent citizens brutalized by a police force built off of racism. By blaming misfortune on those who receive it, one rejects all possibility at feeling inclined to help them.

Our country’s past is not tattered with oppression and injustice – it was built off of it. But that does not mean that we must continue that way. And with the multitude of organizations, student-leaders, and progressive politicians currently in motion, it fortunately does appear that we shall. But we must remain vigilant and remember our duties in this change. A different future does not arrive — it is built.

Despite what heaviness may lay in your hearts at the moment, especially after the storming of the Capitol on January 6th, 2021, hope is most definitely not lost for our nation, and as a writer and student, I speak to everyone with prospects of what this community will bring to our future. Culture will tie humans together inevitably as we always have been tied together. By engaging in action that creates and restructures our culture, we will recreate and restructure our systems.

Systems of equality will beget a more equitable society, that is for sure. But before any of the specifics and before we buckle down for the hard work of change, our nation must remember love and empathy. “Teach people how to have conversations with one another,” said Steiker. By refraining from denouncing people’s positions and beliefs, and instead opting to try to understand how their background has placed them there, we will rediscover our human connections. In a time where politics overpower civility, the answer is not more division. Let us come together, and recognize — but not disvalue — our differences. If we can learn to understand one another, feel for one another, love one another, there is indeed hope for our future.

Our country’s past is not tattered with oppression and injustice – it was built off of it. But that does not mean that we must continue that way.

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