Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Another divisive political year

Has America ever been more divided?

As the presidential election looms five months in the future, the normal divisions between conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, men and women, young and old, seem broader and more hopeless than ever. Political rallies turn into riots. Candidates and their supporters use words that are more suited to a middle school playground than to political debate. A national campaign against "bullying" in schools has shifted to a celebration of bullying on the campaign trail.

In 1968, America was more divided than at any time in a century. Two wildly popular leaders (one a presidential candidate) were assassinated in a span of two months. The Democratic convention in Chicago was besieged by street protests that turned into riots as police brutally beat back the protesters. The presidential election was razor close and failed to eliminate political differences. After the 1969 inauguration, the "Silent Majority" counter-marched against anti-war protesters. Hundreds of thousands filled the streets of the nation's capital as they attempted to stop the government from functioning and force an end to the Vietnam War.

This year's rallies and riots have not reached 1968's scale, but the battlegrounds have shifted. Today's animosities are played out on Facebook, Twitter and other social media on the Internet. The comments are no less angry, no less vile and no less myopic. The Internet has helped broaden the political divide as digital users select the bombastic opinions they agree with and rarely ever have to read facts, if the facts are even available in the places they look. They never have to read contrary opinion

This year, we have a presidential candidate who bans seasoned news organizations from his speeches. Other candidates or supporters compare a candidate to the worst tyrants in history.

An educational system that "deconstructs" great literature to discover its prejudices and that destroys great leaders of history for failing to follow the mores of a society 200 years after the leaders' deaths is partly to blame for a political system that equates celebrity with competence.

This year is not the worst election year in history. 1968 was worse in many ways. 1860, however, takes the prize for a divisiveness that even 600,000 deaths could not mend.

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