The solution to a divided country is not economic prosperity, continued growth, nationalism, identity politics, nor an increase or decrease in legislation. All of those are effects, not causes of the state of the polity. Back at Marquette, I had the opportunity to read “The Funeral Oration of Pericles” from Thucydides’ “Peloponnesian War” (https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/…/pericles…). In it Pericles discusses why it is that Athenians can stand up to Spartans and achieve parity with them on the battlefield. In terms of raw time spent training, clearly the Spartans should have the advantage (in fact, that is the case in the movie 300, though it clearly completely misunderstood the message). Spartans spent their whole lives training to fight, and yet Athenians who were craftsmen, poets, and writers of speeches somehow stood against them. Why?
A deeply ignorant commentator would immediately jump to the power of their navy without seeing the cause of their naval fleet: the reason they developed a navy is because Athens was on the water and therefore relied on trade to lead to growth. But what was really growing was their culture. In interacting with other cultures and trading economically, Athens was really exporting and continuing to import its unique way of life. And on the battlefield they fared well because they had a unique bond shared between each other as well as a beautiful and lovely home to defend, like San Francisco in the 80s, perhaps even now.
The solution to our current crisis is clear if one observes where in our country is “red” and where is “blue.” The reds believe that the cultured elite of the blue areas of the country have abandoned them, while the blues believe the reds to be deeply ignorant of facts and the basic tenets of humane culture. They are both right. But the solution to this split is not looking the other way but joining together. This involves creating a shared culture, or a shared body of experiences–literary, cinematic, theatrical, and comic which can be enjoyed regardless of one’s “level of culture” and which brilliantly showcase the experience of living for all classes. Think of Euripides for the Athenians, Chaucer and Shakespeare for the English, and Goethe for the Germans. What America needs now is a uniting artistic voice which encompasses and expresses the unified feelings of (for) the entirety of the populace. Obviously this will be difficulty, and yet it is what is necessary. For some one person, or some group of intrepid, insightful, and investigative hearts and minds, greatness awaits. And greatness always involves unifying, not disintegrating a people. Culture binds people together. Nothing else will do.
Until Americans stop thinking in terms of poor and rich, elite and common, black and white, and every dichotomy which surely does exist in the service of only one side, America will be hopelessly divided into endless factionalism, precisely what Alexis de Tocqueville (as well as Founder James Madison in The Federalist), the greatest American writer (though French), was worried about as far back as 1831. And at that time there were only twelve million Americans and a much smaller America. Now there are well over three-hundred million Americans, and they (we) cover the entirety of the continent, sea to shining sea (including also a few imperialist holdings in both the Pacific and Atlantic). Factionalism over unifying culture has been a cancer in this country perhaps directly mirroring the rise in physical cancer research and treatments for at least the last twenty five (or one hundred ninety) years. Only when we as Americans begin to think like Kennedy and think: “ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country,” in a legitimate and honest way, will the soul of this great land begin to heal, awaken, and grow. Each and every selfish thought and action taken in the service of a divisive cause, or negligent of one’s fellow man, attacks American unity as well as one’s own spiritual unity. In serving, we are served. In dividing, we are divided. It is a simple solution in contrast to simplistic economic ones, and it starts precisely with you, the individual. If you will not make a change, this country will not change. Take up the laurel and make a difference, even if just a small one.