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Our nation is seriously divided. “United we stand. Divided we fall!” And we are currently in free-fall as a nation regarding division. Our “tribalism” has moved from ethnic and religious divisions to overtly partisan political loyalties that have become tribal.
Our founders understood this possibility. When our tribalism reaches into the partisan political realm, they forecasted disaster.
John Adams wrote in 1780 that the, “…greatest political evil to be feared under a democratic constitution is the emergence of two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.”
In George Washington’s farewell address, he described, “…the spirit of party is democracy’s worst enemy. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasional riot and insurrection.”
As our Founding Fathers were crafting the Constitution, we were a nation of tribes — English, Scots, Irish, French, Italians, Swedes, Greeks and Germans, to name a few.
Gordon Wood, in his work “The Radicalization of the American Revolution” wrote, “Living in a society that was already diverse and pluralistic could not be the traditional ethnic, religious and tribal loyalties of the Old World.”
As Abraham Lincoln put it, “Reverence for the Constitution and Laws” would be the uniting agent. A new patriotism, constitutional patriotism, based on the ideals and laws set forth in the U.S. Constitution would be the unifying factor of our Republic.
Today we have a president who, during an interview on Fox News, unloaded his real belief regarding the U.S. Constitution. During this interview Trump referred to the Constitution’s system of checks and balances on presidential power as “archaic.” Quoting Trump, “It’s a very rough system. It’s an archaic system. It’s really a bad thing for the country.”
Are we a nation united, guided and sustained by a document crafted by our Founding Fathers and featuring the rule of law? Or, are we becoming a nation of men with a cult of personalities where loyalty to a political party or a personality takes priority over loyalty to country and the Constitution?
It seems these days all tribes feel they are under attack — whites and minorities, working class and elites, liberals and conservatives. All tribes are retreating to their respective camps hurling self-righteous, angry insults at their perceived enemy tribes. They have the perception that these opposing political tribes are enemies to be vanquished.
Consider the findings of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center poll from 2017:
• “Less than half of the Republicans said that the freedom of the press to criticize politicians was very important to maintaining a strong democracy.”
• “More than half of Trump supporters said the president should be able to overturn decisions by judges he disagrees with.”
• “More than half of Trump supporters would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump proposed delaying it until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.”
If one possesses an ounce of common sense, it would be clear should these perspectives of our system of government and its constitution became a reality, it would signal the end to our constitutional democracy. Such would signal the onset of a totalitarian system that fits the style of Trump.
The U.S. is not a tribal-ethnic nation. We must never be tricked by a political leader to have to choose between a national identity or multiculturalism. We are unique among the nations of the world — we can have both. However, as Lincoln admonished us, the key is constitutional patriotism.
Our current president, with his divisive rhetoric, seeks to drive us apart and into our “tribes” where he can manipulate the fear, racism and hate that promotes his political power. And in the process, Trump rips apart the fundamental precepts of the Constitution setting forth the separate but equal three branches of government.
Good citizens of this great Republic, wake up, resist and speak truth to power and your representatives in Washington!
Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.