Why Is Our Nation So Divided?


BILL MOYERS: “Why do you think our nation is so divided? Is it because we’re so diverse or is there something else at work here?” Thanks for your question.

Well I think it’s human nature at work, don’t you? And it has been ever thus. Read Genesis where the Bible’s First Family is so contentious that young Joseph was dumped in a pit by his brothers and left to die. He escaped, made his way to Egypt, and — well, you know the rest. Here in America, the colonists were so divided that one third fought for independence, one third remained loyal to the Crown, and the other third stayed on the sidelines better to exploit whatever outcome the Revolutionary War produced. We were so divided over slavery we went to war, turning families against families, neighbors against neighbors and the soil red with each other’s blood.

Politics is an alternative to fratricide but it’s no pacifier of our conflicts over issues that touch our deepest emotions, like: taxes, abortion, immigration, sexuality—you name it. The ambition for power and especially the control of government brings out the martial spirit that in our better days we manage to subdue, for the sake of sure survival. Sometimes just to remind myself of how much we can disagree and dislike each other, I go back to read the marshal speech Robert Ingersoll made when he nominated James G. Blaine for President at the National Republican Convention in 1876: “Like an armed warrior, like a plumed knight, James G. Blaine marched down the halls of the American Congress and threw his shining lances full and fair against the brazen foreheards of every traitor to his country and every maligner of its honor.” If that makes you think of the TV commercials hurled in salvo after salvo in Iowa today, you get the point. We are a querulous people. Civilization is but a thin veneer of civility stretched across the passions of the human heart. And civilization doesn’t just happen; we have to make it happen. And that’s not easy. Thanks for your question.

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