“…Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!—All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
—Abraham Lincoln, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions”:
Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois,
January 27, 1838
In 1860, the adolescent United States stood over an abyss. As a presidential election loomed, little but frayed threads of formality still joined the nation together. In its northern half, labor was free and paid; in its southern, men and women owned millions of others as chattel slaves. Six years earlier, a new political party, the Republicans, was founded specifically to destroy that half’s “peculiar institution.” This meant that the abolitionist Republican Party’s lightning quick rise to being the Democrats’ chief rivals brought with it a bitter sting.
The slaveholding, Democrat-ruled southern states knew that their economies’ unjust foundation was in peril if the Republican nominee, Abraham Lincoln, won the White House; when he did, their only recourse, they believed, was secession. South Carolina issued its own declaration of “independence” more than two months before Lincoln’s inauguration, followed by the ten other states of what would become the Confederacy throughout the winter of 1861. Following large troop mobilizations on both sides, on April 12, Confederate gun batteries opened fire upon the besieged, Union-controlled Fort Sumter off Charleston harbor. As the Stars and Bars rose above the defeated fort, civil war and only civil war could have come to pass. Only blood—that of perhaps 750,000—could finally begin to quench an already burning house’s division.
Today, America may well be more divided than at any time since 1860. Even in the radical, violent 1960s, opposition to the Vietnam War was not ubiquitously radical or violent. When a communist-led anti-war riot ravaged the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, subsequent polling indicated that a healthy majority of Americans reacted to the violence with shock and disgust. Worse was yet to come in the first years of the following decade, from the Weathermen to the Black Panthers, but America eventually survived that trauma, as it, miraculously, had secession, Civil War, and Reconstruction a century earlier. By the 1980s, a renewed sense of unity, born of the 1970s’ economic and foreign policy failures, swept Ronald Reagan to victory in two of the largest electoral victories in the history of the Electoral College.
The divisions that ail the first decades of what historian Richard Landes calls “our so-far unhappy century,” however, appear even more disturbing and even more incurable. The nation whose sixteenth president’s heroism saved it from one catastrophe quickly exhausts itself toward another.
The mainstreams of both political parties have become increasingly infected with open extremism. So many on both sides of the aisle now support political ideologies and measures that have nothing to do with the Constitution or America’s founding principles. On one end, the largely anti-communist Democratic Party of Harry Truman and John Kennedy has been conquered by what radio host Mark Levin has concisely named “American Marxism.” On the other, many claiming to be conservatives have embraced a vengeful, conspiratorial worldview characterized by fanatical—sometimes anti-Semitic— “Christian nationalism” and a cult worship of demagogic political saviors.
For years now, there has been no hope promoted by either side in American politics. There has been no revamped version of “It’s morning again in America.” Democrats have painted a gloomy picture of an irredeemably bigoted America, a tainted attempt at democracy that has somehow become as bad as—or worse than—Jim Crow. Republicans have portrayed an America constantly in a state of decline, ruined from within by tentacles upon webs of globalist conspiracies rendering the country entirely hapless. Both parties blame the other for America’s perceived state of immorality. Neither party sees any virtue whatsoever in the ideals of the opposing side—an enemy that must be completely destroyed to save the country. In order to maintain power, Republicans and Democrats have ignored the moderate majority—selling their souls to groups of extremists on each side in order to remain in office.
Should there be doubt as to whether most Americans are still moderate? Perhaps a bit of doubt is healthy overall, yet it must be said that more Americans identify as Independents than ever before. In fact, more are identifying that way than identifying as Democrats or Republicans—a trend growing amongst all age groups. This is happening so much so that a major Democratic Senator, Kristen Sinema of Arizona, felt comfortable enough to abandon the Democrats (without becoming a Republican) in 2022.
The archaic chit-chat on the debate stages is ultimately a waste of time that continues to turn people off from politics. The tiresome swarms of venous Twitter “politiwasps” and their hate-filled tirades have driven rational people away from the platform. Indeed, Twitter (now “X”)—though always a cesspool of political depravity and anti-Semitism—has today degenerated from being the Internet’s subway bathroom to the fly-ridden air above a World War I army latrine. In public spaces, such as gyms or barber shops, news channels like Fox or MSNBC are often changed to local news stations or sports channels. In fact, Newsmax, a far-right and Trumpian conservative news network, was dropped by DirecTV due to low ratings—pulling in, at most, only 230,000 people per day in a nation of more than 330 million. For those who claim that this is the result of Democrats lobbying against a conservative interest network, that doesn’t explain why the AppleTV series The Problem with Jon Stewart was also canceled due to low ratings. Jon Stewart has for years been affiliated with Democrats, and had great ratings when on cable. But as he moved onto platforms like Netflix and AppleTV, he embraced woke talking points. Just as happened with Newsmax, the audience literally tuned him out.
With moderates feeling cowed or checking out of politics, all restraints come loose. On the far left, there is a desire to foment an anti-capitalist revolution—words that echo Lenin and his desire for a calamitous world revolt against anyone who disagreed with him. On the far right, there is a need to abandon American values of liberty and to side with dictators like Vladimir Putin or criminals like Andrew Tate in order to “preserve” ultra-nationalist and “traditionalist” ideologies. Americans in the middle—both ideologically and geographically—are forced either to submit and engage in this political gang war, or self-censor to allegedly buy time. New American citizens, seeking a better way of life, and blue-collar workers trying to keep food on the table are both abandoned while coastal elites on one end and waves of nativist fury on the other fan the flames of extremism. The most extreme, of course, rail against the center—which supposedly got us to this abyss—seeking to undermine democracy from within. For the alt-right, it seems, only a god-like leader from above can solve the country’s problems. For the alt-left, only a new form of religion—wokeness—can redeem the country’s original sins.
Communications between the two sides in particular, and Americans in general, have derailed. Familial ostracism due to political differences has skyrocketed. At best, acceptance of disagreement has declined, while honest, good-faith discussion appears all but banned. In place of the open exchanges of opinion once encouraged in great universities and enshrined in classics like Lincoln’s debates with Stephen Douglas over slavery, echo chambers and media insulation have replaced dialogue. Most chilling of all, for many on both sides, political violence seems to have progressively supplanted talking as far more of a first than a last resort.
The current crisis could be summed up in a line from the 2011 movie The Help. When Hilly, the film’s racist antagonist, successfully gets one of the film’s main characters fired on false charges, the maid in question—Aibileen—asks her: “Ain’t you tired?” Hilly, tearful and speechless, soon leaves the scene. The question is a valid one, because it has no answer. After years of bullying, hate, and vitriol, she is, indeed, tired. Alone, friendless, and with a ruined reputation, she realizes that her years of domination and power have come to mean nothing. While she succeeded in getting Aibileen fired, she is left with nobody to comfort her, nobody to love her, and with the bitterness of loneliness and rage to forever consider in her mind.
It is time that the United States ask itself the same question. The politics of hate, demonization of the opposition, and grievances can animate and mobilize political armies for a number of years, but they do nothing to form a common national vision and identity on which future generations can build. They lead us to the precipice of a second Civil War.
As a nation and a country, then, we must ask ourselves: ain’t we tired? To continue wallowing in the negativity of the propagandized, 24-hour news cycle is exhausting. To consume information that keeps us in a mindset in which the ends justify the means, in which the other side is an irredeemably wicked enemy that cannot be allowed to win anything, is draining. To keep settling for aggrandized mediocrity in our leadership, looking to conspiracy theories for answers, and giving ground to those who spew hate and division, is not going to make a better America for any of us.
Lincoln said that “All the armies” of the world “could not, by force… take a drink from the Ohio”—that the only way America could be destroyed was if its end sprung “up amongst us.” A nation so great and so strong, those fraught antebellum years taught him, could only “die by suicide.”
America is a great country, with a great many problems that need to be solved. Many of these can only be solved by Republicans and Democrats working together. We don’t need to—and will not—agree on everything, but we should start from at least understanding each other and learning from each other. We should seek to operate on common ground toward some point or place both sides can bear to inhabit. And we can begin by reminding ourselves that it can be—and must be—morning again in America in order to mobilize our citizenry for the pursuit of a better country. That suicide—not just failure—is not an option.