Some things about American politics never change. Like the idea that when minorities or the poor start questioning the rich, white or powerful, it's divisive, and therefore bad. Much worse, in fact, that anything the rich, white or powerful might actually be doing.
Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks expressed this view earlier this month. Obama and the Democratic Party, he complained
, are playing the "race card" by accusing Republicans of bigotry. Obama, Brooks said, "divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things."
In the same vein, some conservatives claim
that charging Republicans with sexism is just a trick to get women voting Democratic. Or that asking why the rich are getting richer and the poor and middle-class losing ground is class warfare and "envy." And that while Martin Luther King was cool, black activists today are just race hustlers seeking to turn Americans against each other.
It's a familiar political meme. During World War I, Teddy Roosevelt and other political leaders were adamant that any deviation from "100 percent Americanism" -- not supporting the war enough, fighting for unionization -- was treasonous. Lynching blacks or delivering vigilante justice against labor organizers was a sign of a united America, but fighting for civil rights was divisive and subversive.
In the 1950s, critics of the civil-rights movement made the same argument. Anti-communist movies such as I Was a Communist for the FBI
and Red Menace
accused the movement of setting Americans at each others' throats. Didn't blacks realize America had to be united in the face of the international communist conspiracy? Some conservatives later condemned King in the same tone: Pat Buchanan, for example, declared King "one of the most divisive men in contemporary history."
Segregation and discrimination? Not at all divisive. Talking about them and demanding they come to an end? That was divisive.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed along with other Civil Rights activist for holding a peaceful march in Birmingham. MLK was in solitary confinement for 8 days and wrote wrote the famous "Letter From Birmingham Jail." |
And in the 21st century it continues. Conservatives charging Obama is plotting a race war
? Ann Coulter saying
we should restrict immigration to preserve the white majority? Republicans saying new voting restrictions
are good because they reduce Democratic votes? Calling the poor
worthless, immoral parasites? None of that is divisive. It's liberals criticizing conservatives for saying that stuff that's divisive!
As Dr. King once said, Egypt was perfectly unified and happy when the Israelites accepted their lot as slaves. It's when they confronted pharaoh and talked of leaving Egypt that the country became divided. Any time the oppressed try to get out of Egypt or win justice from pharaoh, it's divisive.
And let's face it, America is a divided country. We have deep divides on foreign policy, welfare, civil rights, women's rights, religion, gay rights, gun rights, you name it. Some of those divisions have been around since 1776. Talking about them is politically awkward for Republicans at the moment, but keeping quiet won't create unity, just a facade. The fissures won't fade away. They never have.
There are countries out there which display a lot of unity, such as Saudi Arabia, China or Uzbekistan. They don't get that way because everyone there is on the same page, they do it by repressing everyone who dissents. Thanks, but no thanks; I'll choose our divisive, fractured politics any day. To paraphrase Churchill, a country that allows divisive, heated debates is the worst possible place to live -- except for all the others.