There is scant doubt that modern America is witnessing a societal division not seen since the decades preceding the Civil War. No, we are not headed for a violent combat in which thousands die. However, lost in the current division is an understanding as to what has happened to American society over the past three decades.
1. Passing from New Immigrants to Newer immigrants. Between the years 1880- 1924, about twenty five immigrants entered the United States. Most were poor, most came from southern and eastern Europe. A high percent were Catholic or Jewish. By 1914 one out of four Americans was an immigrant or child of one. This group encountered severe discrimination, and it required two World Wars in which their children fought for America before barriers of discrimination finally collapsed. It was not until the 1970s that this group was embraced as “true Americans.” There was an unspoken assumption that America had finally completed its immigration process, and now the task was to create a united society in which all were equal. The process of how to accomplish this goal were still unclear, but a majority of Americans wanted this goal.
2. The arrival of large numbers of immigrants from Latin America, the West Indies and Asia created in the mind of many Americans a sense of, “when will immigration finally end and we can just live as Americans?” There were no world wars in which immigrant children would serve and forge bonds of patriotism with other Americans. This lack of a national threat which required the contributions of ALL Americans never enabled these New Immigrants to become bonded with Americans in the cause of societal survival.
3. Republican anger over rise of Democrats to power. Between 1860- 1932, Democrat Presidents were in power only 16 years. The remaining 56 years witnessed a Republican as president. For many Republicans, this became the “norm.” The Depression ushered in a twenty year period in which Democrats were president, and then an eight year period beginning with the election of President Kennedy. For many Republicans who had never been able to assimilate with the New Immigrants, Democrats became associated with –Foreigners. Loss of power was due to the presence of these “foreign elements.”
4. The Cold War. Americans never enjoyed at least a decade of peace in the aftermath of World War II. Suddenly, their ally, the Soviet Union, became a force that threatened the very survival of America. But, didn’t America fight for three years to END global threats to its survival? Instead of peace came forty-five years of threats to our existence. This unleashed the power of Senator Joseph McCarthy and those who became professional doomsday forecasters. We have never recovered from McCarthyism. It simply took on new names, and new devils who were betraying our society.
5. The glory of Individualism. Both liberals and conservatives believe in INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS. Both glorify the right to be an individual who is not bound to any form or allegiance to a societal leadership. An Individual is NOT part of a community. An individual stands apart from community. Pay taxes to construct roads and bridges, heck, I take the subway to work or I drive my car and why should I care about roads in Wyoming? I only care about ME and MY concerns. I do so have the right to bring a gun to church! I am I, not we.
6. Rethinking of Community. The social media has revolutionized the concept of “community.” I am 83 and was raised in a community. My community was east European Jews and we shopped in community stores, we played with friends from the community, we aided one another to get jobs, and we shared many common political and social values. Social media has put an end to such concepts of “community.” The bonds of a working class community included aiding youth to get jobs or identifying who to marry. The path from youth to maturity were strewn with links to a adult life. Social media does not provide that structure for youth.
7. The “Nigger in the woodpile.” At the center of American history is the presence of black skinned people. They were slaves who became free, but there was lack of clarity as to their roles in American society. From day one of the end of slavery, there was ambiguity concerning the role of a black skinned person. Between 1870-1940 about four thousand were lynched without punishment to the lynchers. The “black skinned person” remained for many Americans, the embodiment of their fears. As long as Negroes were inhabiting the twilight zone of rights, I knew there was always someone over whom I stood in my sense of power. Barack Obama’s election has not yet been accepted by millions of Americans who recognize that if a black skinned person leads the nation, this ends forever my sense of power and superiority.
8. The lack of a President who is a communicator forging connections between disparate groups in society. The death of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy ended for America the possibility of a president who could forge alliances between white workers and poor black and Hispanic groups. Barack Obama had an historical role to play, he definitely was hampered by virulent Republicans,but he also failed to speak WITH Americans about issues and their concerns. Obama completely failed to explain to Americans that his actions addressed Their needs! Obama was not a Franklin Roosevelt.