Things Fall Apart, The Centre Cannot Hold

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"A House divided against itself cannot stand." These words from Abraham Lincoln as he began his campaign for the Senate seat in Illinois, are just as true today as they were nearly 160 years ago. For the US in 2017 is divided against itself in ways that are difficult to comprehend. Fault lines exposed in our society in the 1960's have widened, and the shifting of the electoral tectonic plates threaten our stability as a nation.

 

In the 1960's, Richard Nixon evoked the image of the Silent Majority. That is, the good honest working men and families who shared true American values, who decried the changes in society playing out on TV and in the streets. Yet the 1960's proved to be the time when the belief that American society was a monolithic culture, came apart. The beliefs in monogamy and consumerism were challenged by the hippies. The belief that the Federal government always had good motives and would never lie were chipped away as the truths came out regarding Vietnam, and past programs like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Then Watergate revealed that even our top leaders were capable of deception and crimes. A schism grew between those who considered themselves anti-establishment, and those who represented the silent majority.

 

Fast forward through the decades. Societal changes continued through the succeeding generations. Some changes were evolutionary, such as those wrought by the 1965 immigration bill that removed the preference for white, European immigrants in favor of other groups that were not as prevalent in the US population. The fallout of our war in Indochina led to a large increase in Asian immigrants. Small cities that had been homogenous, like Lincoln Nebraska (my old home), developed a growing ethnic nature through the settlement of refugees, and later, their families.

 

One of the largest fault lines in US culture was created in 1973, with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade. Before that decision, abortion was legal only in a few states, and services to terminate pregnancies were spotty throughout the rest of the nation. Desperate women sought the services of unlicensed and often incompetent practitioners, resulting in many having to go to hospitals to repair the effects of a failed abortion. In 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City for incomplete abortions. This document from the Guttmacher organization from 2003 gives an excellent perspective on the nature of abortions prior to Roe v Wade.

https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2003/03/lessons-roe-will-past-be-prologue

Quite simply, throughout history women have faced the issue of unwanted pregnancy, and have sought extreme means to relieve themselves of pregnancy. Although the stigma of unwed motherhood has been reduced (are there any homes for unwed mothers still around?), abortion will continue to be sought by women. It is only in the past 44 years that it has been recognized in the US as a right for the would-be mother to choose to terminate a pregnancy within certain bounds.

 

Another of the tectonic plate slippages of the past few decades is the change in religious attitudes. We have seen the demise of WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) leadership in society. The P's have migrated over the years, over to E's and C's (Evangelicals and Catholics), or to Nones. Those who moved to denominations with more fervent beliefs have led the efforts to reverse Roe v Wade. Those who moved from P to None are often wondering why the religious right is looking to take away their freedom. Those of us who have remained behind in one of the standard P churches are wondering how to retain our relevance in a society that seems to actively align against our own choices. The chasm that exists between the Christian sects gets ratcheted up multiple notches when non-Christian religions are brought into the equation. Especially in the past few years, the hydra heads of anti-Semitism have remerged, and the internet overflows with references to the Protocols of Zion, about Jewish domination of the US media empire, and with conspiracy theories of various false flag operations aimed at deceiving the US into fighting Israel's wars by proxy.

 

Then there is the issue of Moslems. To many in this nation, Islam is viewed as an affront to all that is good and sacred. For those who are against Moslems, the words of the Quran are parsed and spat back out, showing those portions where the texts call for Jihad. Those quotes are taken as emblematic of the entire religion, relegating Islam to be a religion of hatred. Never mind that one can find similar quotes in the texts of the Jewish and Christian religion, and never mind that the history of civilization has often been punctuated by battles over religious supremacy. The despising of Moslems has motivated Donald Trump to try multiple ways to permanently ban one fifth of the earth's population from having access to this country, all in the name of preventing domestic terrorism.

 

At least in the 1960's and 1970's, we still had the vestiges of a common enemy to unite our population. Communism was our existential threat during that time, and we built up our military-industrial complex to face its menace. Then, within the blink of an eye, the entire edifice of Communism collapsed, and suddenly the economies of nations long suppressed through isolation of socialistic regimes was unleashed. China became everyone's favorite supply chain partner, and the US began hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs, especially low value-added jobs, and jobs in energy intensive industries like steel. Those were often the jobs that held together smaller towns and cities in fly-over land within the US. The phrase Rust Belt was coined to represent the decline begun when old manufacturing sites were shuttered and left to the elements to oxidize, since they had no economic value anymore. Entire regions where a good and honest living could be made through factory work, now had few options for advancement. Emotions began to boil as resentment built at the unfairness of life when those on the coasts were living the high life, while those in the heartland subsisted on fast-food jobs and big-box retail clerk jobs.

 

With the advent of the internet and the shattering of the old system of 3 television networks showing only what they wanted you to see, came the next stage of this nation's partition. The media fragmented into self-reinforcing segments, and for those who stay within their media world, it becomes impossible to understand those who listen and watch the other side's media. Fox News and Breitbart fans do not believe that old-time media outlets can report the truth. Thus the allegations against Roy Moore are viewed as part of the plot of the deep state to take down the leadership of Donald Trump. Similarly, those who follow the elite media and liberal television networks cannot comprehend why those who support Roy Moore are ignoring the facts. We are now in an age where facts are irrelevant if they don't agree with your preconceived notion of the truth.

 

In 2017, the fault lines of this nation have split off both sides of the spectrum. On the left you have the remnants of the counter-culture of the 1960's, with calls for radical redistribution of wealth across society. The right itself has fragmented, and what has emerged is the Donald Trump manifestation of nationalism and ethnocentrism taking over the Republican party in a hostile takeover. This segment of the population has assumed the anti-establishment role that hippies played in the 1960's. They have a deep distrust of all things related to social elites. Even though they have seized the reins of power, they have not yet been successful in exerting their will to move the ship of state to their liking. The events of the next year will likely determine the eventual fate of this movement. Will they be reaffirmed by continued electoral success, or will the segment of the population still residing in the center of the political spectrum end this attempt to hijack the American experiment?

 

Posted first on my blog https://evenabrokenclock.blog

Comments

The Burghal Hidage Added Dec 12, 2017 - 11:34am
A lot of correct observations here. So this is where we are. It's the same shit sandwich for everyone. The division comes quite simply between those who serve the shit sandwich and those expected to eat it. That my friend crosses all races and demographics.
 
Of course there is the third option. If you don't like shit sandwiches and you're not in a position to be serving shit sandwiches you can just pass on the carbs and go grow your own
Bill Kamps Added Dec 12, 2017 - 11:44am
Clock, while a lot of interesting observations, I dont know that splits in society are new.  If you look through the history of the 20th Century in the US, you will find many similar faults, some much larger.  We had  prohibition, the right of women to vote, the union movement, Civil Rights, Viet Nam and its legitimacy, etc.  Many of these led to violent demonstrations, which we are not seeing today. 
 
It is similar to when politicians say "this election is the most important  in recent history", it is an exaggeration because of recency.  This is known cognitive bias, that things happening now are more impactful than similar or larger events of the past.
 
 
George N Romey Added Dec 12, 2017 - 12:07pm
Very good article. The problem is that those which are not extreme ideologues get drowned out. The death of enough decent jobs has put us on edge further strengthening the stress factor. 
Even A Broken Clock Added Dec 12, 2017 - 1:15pm
Thanks for the comments. I do see that the divisions from the 1960's on culture have never healed, and the silent majority from the 1960's reflected in parody by Archie Bunker has morphed into the Roy Moore and Donald Trump supporter of 2017.
 
Burghal, how many carbs does shit have anyway? Or were you just referring to the bread ;}
Bill Kamps Added Dec 12, 2017 - 1:29pm
District gerrymandering encourages ideologues getting elected to Congress.  If the primary winner wins the general election, then it is not necessary to get candidates from the political center to win the general election.  Very few districts, like less than 15% are really contested in any given election.  This  pushes the people elected to farther extremes, rather than forcing them together.
 
Politicians dont want to talk about this, because both parties benefit from it, and it helps to keep out third party candidates.
The Burghal Hidage Added Dec 12, 2017 - 1:35pm
Well funny you should ask! Today in our cafe we are featuring a fine vintage bull shit, a Washington DC '17.  It's a bit greasy across the palate but once you've choked down enough your senses are numbed enough that you just don't care.  It is a distinctive vintage with a high pedigree, composed of 100% organic bull shit from the mouths of beings who have never set foot outside of DC.  It allows the bull shit to fully absorb all of the local characteristics and this translates fully into the glass. I'm thinking of giving it four stars....
George N Romey Added Dec 12, 2017 - 3:00pm
My sense is that with this sexual harassment charge(s) Trump is done.  However, he will not go quietly.  We could be looking at severe social unrest, which could take down the already overvalued stock and bond markets.
Bill Kamps Added Dec 12, 2017 - 4:16pm
George, someone will realize that many kinds of sexual harassment is not illegal, and sexual harassment is not an impeachable offense.  Just ask Bill Clinton.  They had to try to get him on lying before Congress, not getting a blow job from an intern. 
 
This whole movement is going a bit far, when it becomes the case that if you patted a woman on the ass, you must give up your job, and maybe never work again.  There is a wide range of what actions constitute harassment.
 
More likely, Trump will have trouble with Flynn singing for his freedom. 
 
 
George N Romey Added Dec 13, 2017 - 9:00am
This isn’t really about sexual harassment. It’s really about getting Trump out of office anyway his enemies can. Russia failed, now we have this.
Bill Kamps Added Dec 13, 2017 - 9:06am
George, I agree.  However, you cant impeach someone over something that isnt impeachable.  Groping and kissing women, years before he was elected isnt going to get him removed from office.  He would have had to have broken the law, like committed rape, which no one has accused him of.   He isnt going to just resign like Mario Batali.
 
I do think they have a chance of charging him with obstruction of justice, or something that Flynn/Manafort may reveal.
 
It is very possible that given the Trump family's unfamiliarity in government, that in the early days they had some conversations, and made some promises that stepped over the line.  Something that would be legal and typical in business, but not allowed in government.
George N Romey Added Dec 13, 2017 - 9:23am
I think Trump willl quit inciting that he is being framed and unable to carry out his plans. His base will go nuts and the Democrats will find themselves totally screwed with a President Pence. It will be an interesting time in America history.
Katharine Otto Added Dec 13, 2017 - 11:35am
Clock,
Ooh la la, do you cover a lot of ground with this one.  Going to the beginning, "A house divided against itself cannot stand," "Honest Abe" perpetrated the biggest house division in US history with his war, and the emotional wounds to the country have festered ever since.  
 
I won't elaborate about everyone else's hero, except to say the structure of government survived but the spirit of unity was lost then, never to be fully regained.  We are seeing the modern enactment of this division, and it is creating the enormous drag we see now within the federal government and the population at large.  The US has been ruled by hate and fear, manifested in part by competition, but also in the practice of doling out favors and concessions to everyone with a big enough mouth or a fat enough check to influence Congressional decisions.  The media stokes the flames, and the public is wising up to the hypocrisy, no longer sure who or what to believe and distrusting it all.
 
More to say but I've probably said too much already.  Interesting article, worthy of much discussion.
Even A Broken Clock Added Dec 13, 2017 - 11:37am
George and Bill - certainly with the potential for a President Pence in the event of Donald Trump leaving the presidency, it would certainly be a case of be careful what you ask for, because you just may get it.
 
Burghal - Please reserve me a case. Thanks.
Autumn Cote Added Dec 13, 2017 - 12:38pm
Please note, the more personal responses you offer the more likely your articles will remain popular and commented upon.  As always, many thanks for your participation with Writer Beat!
Even A Broken Clock Added Dec 13, 2017 - 5:10pm
Katharine - our posts crossed and I didn't see your note till later. Your points about Lincoln ring true. I think the discussion we saw with the Roy Moore candidacy where he extolled the family unity present prior to the civil war as being beneficial to the point of justifying slavery. Although I wonder exactly how much unity slavery engendered in the slave families.
 
Yes, Lincoln's words precipitated the South breaking away. Did he really have a realistic option of letting the states secede without taking action? Consider what would have happened if that was the course of action taken instead of prosecuting the war.
 
Thanks for your comments.
wsucram15 Added Dec 13, 2017 - 8:55pm
George..Trump isnt going anywhere, not yet.  You need the HoR to push hm out and they arent there yet. 
YET...give it some more time.  Its coming..not too far off.
Also people if you object to this tax bill..call your Representatives and Senators.  Email, tweet and call.
 
Dino Manalis Added Dec 14, 2017 - 8:30am
The Center is what keeps us together and we need more centrists to unite us with wise policies.
Even A Broken Clock Added Dec 14, 2017 - 10:13am
Dino, what appears to be happening is that those who are centrists are now avoiding both parties and are registered as independents. Therefore both parties are trending towards the extremes. It is uncertain whether a new political movement of the center can develop.
 
You are a very prolific commentator. I'd be interested in seeing a post from you. Think about it.
wsucram15 Added Dec 14, 2017 - 10:17am
I agree EABC..I want to see Dino write an article.
George N Romey Added Dec 14, 2017 - 10:22am
Jeanne the tax bill is what the financial and corporate elite want.  No one in Washington is going to give it a serious challenge.  The Pelosi/Schumer wing of the Democratic Party will crow like a morning hen then go back to their life of cocktail parties and state dinners.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Dec 14, 2017 - 11:32am
EABC: The 'house divided' quote is not from Lincoln, but from a Jew: Jesus Christ (Matthew 12:25).
 
Good article. I have once read a study of political ideas and self-categorisation (left-right) in the US and it seemed that still in the 90s most people could agree on most things.
 
I think much is now reversed. The new counterculture is on the right now and hopefully taking over the Republican party.
 
What drives the divide? I can't put my finger on it, but the ninetees were also the first wave of political correctness. I did not speak English at the time, so I can only guess that it came with the Clinton presidential election campaign (I guess it because it resurfaced when Hillary ran 2016). Yes, internet was new, but I also think the media was in fact more diversified in the 90s. In 2016 every single paper supported Clinton....hm
 
Quite frankly I think it was done deliberately simply because some political and media leaders saw that they can. I could point my finger on the people who demonize and dehumanized everybody they disagree with.
Even A Broken Clock Added Dec 14, 2017 - 3:28pm
Benjamin, you are correct that Lincoln expropriated the quote from the bible.
 
I think that the new counterculture is on the right, but the old counterculture is still alive and flourishing on the left. On the right you find the libertarians, on the left you find the extreme redistributionists. Neither of these positions is where the bulk of the American public resides. That's one reason why so many feel Congress does not represent them.
 
What can we do to drive consensus and compromise instead of the concept of burning it all down?
Benjamin Goldstein Added Dec 14, 2017 - 4:11pm
EABC: Maybe the answer is not consensus and compromise.
 
Much of the issue is really a generational one. The younger ones have different concerns, different solutions and even entirely different priorities. A lot of the misunderstanding that causes the divided comes from the old generation's unwillingness to listen.
 
They go on and on about financial things and taxes, abortion, and how all of their wishes are not yet met to the tee total. Yet, the younger generation has different priorities and is kind of okay with the status quo in taxes, abortion, gay rights, etc.
 
They are concerned that media and thoughts are controlled by a small group of ideologues, that dissenting voices are silenced, their guns are taken away, their wages are driven down by mass immigration and so on. They also have different solutions. They don't want subsidies, laws that set prices or wages and so on. They have different ideas or want discussion forums with a wide reach to brainstrom and explore new ideas.
 
Of course, this is now rather the conservative side of the younger generation. The younger left has maybe their own thing. I don't know (but honestly I find the well of idea on the left a bit dry at the moment).
 
Somehow a thing like WB where very, very different minds have run-ins with one another on a large scale would take away a lot of aggression. I said that in some of these 'trolling' threads already, WB is actually very civilized, much more so than people offline or on other web platforms. We know that we are different and we can accept that. If this general acceptance can be found again, solutions to political problems can be worked out together, I believe. It doesn't have to be a compromise, where everybody has to give up something. It also doesn't have to be a consensus that everybody needs to be a part of (people can be left with multiple options). But I am as clueless as anybody else.
Even A Broken Clock Added Dec 14, 2017 - 5:51pm
Thanks for a very thoughtful reply, Benjamin. And just think, today we saw one more media amoeba engulfing a fellow media microorganism. Consolidation of voices grows apace, while local media languishes.
 
Your points on the generational aspect I think are valid, but just remember that my generation (boomer) was the one that spawned the original counterculture. Now my generation is leading the charge to the past. Probably that is the way it always is with generational change.
George N Romey Added Dec 14, 2017 - 6:23pm
We Baby Boomers believed in the American Dream. The youth of today have realized it’s turned into one big farce.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Dec 15, 2017 - 11:28am
EABC: I was very concerned about the Disney takeover of FOX. Fortunate enough the political channels of FOX will not be part of the deal. I think Bernie Sanders has shown that the left also has a segment that is hardly represented in the big news. The 'Democracy now' and 'The Intercept' slot and the 'anti-capitalist' consumer report slot are underrepresented. The large networks (with the excepton of FOX) always advocate the current - and actually revolving (pro Russia - contra Russia - pro-Russia - Russia-Russia ...) DNC positions all the time.
Katharine Otto Added Dec 18, 2017 - 7:28pm
Clock,
The book The Real Lincoln, by Thomas DiLorenzo, asserts that slavery was dying out anyway, because it was economically unsustainable.  Compensated emancipation was the norm in Europe.  DiLorenzo claims Lincoln wanted a war because the Confederacy did not charge tariffs on imports and exports, thereby cutting the Union off from a hefty source of income.  The purpose of the war was to break the South economically.
Even A Broken Clock Added Dec 19, 2017 - 4:46pm
Thanks, Katharine. I am not familiar with DiLorenzo. I will have to take a look.