Our Division Is Much More Fatal Than We Think It Is
The fall of the USSR towards the dawn of the new century changed contemporary foreign relations forever after. The former superpower’s collapse would create several callow states in its wake, adding fuel to the already blazing fire of global instability sparked by the rapid decolonization of Africa and the turmoil of Eastern European nation-states. With such events would come a relatively novel theory of war, as combative conflict would shift from interstate (between states), enabled by the previous abundance of global superpowers, to intrastate (within states), enabled by the creation of new and fragile nations (it is important to note that the idea of civil conflict is just recently becoming significant; although it existed in the past, European military historians would often disregard these disputes as unsophisticated conflict confined to puerile states). In his book, The Future of War, Lawrence Freedman attributes the rise of civil war to “chronic instability” and quotes author Robert Kaplan in arguing that “Future wars will be those of communal survival… These wars will be subnational, meaning that it will be hard for states and local governments to protect their own citizens physically. This is how many states will ultimately die” (Freedman, 155).
Kaplan would eventually attribute civil conflict to, “environmental scarcity,” or the depletion of natural resources. It nonetheless seems logical that this phenomenon of subnational war will also increase in the face of subnational division, as seen most infamously and recently in Liberia, Syria, Argentina, Rwanda, and Bosnia, among countless other states. Even as Americans, we are not immune to this trend; we must be cautious of fatal political division.
Even for the few of us that were alive during the 9/11 attacks, surely none of us can remember with any clarity the brief sense of national unity that it created. Instead, our lives have been engulfed by polarizing war and controversial intervention. It is in this reality that our nation transitioned from one unified by a common foe to one fragmented by political affairs; we are undoubtedly divided. The recent presidential election generated two candidates who each received heavy criticism from within their own parties, a clear example of the stubborn dissension between Americans, even when we’re fighting on the same team.
It is arguable that our country has never been more politically divided since the civil rights movement. The two-party system has evolved in such a way that those with opposing beliefs are forcibly pinned against each other. Conservatives are bigots; liberals are snowflakes. Capitalism forgets the poor; socialism incentivizes the lazy. Pro-life advocates reject women’s rights; pro-choice advocates reject the un-born’s rights. The contrasting opinions can be listed forever.
However, the problem in our political system is not simply that we disagree; this is, and forever will be, inevitable. The problem is that we have forgotten to compromise. According to David Brooks on the PBS Newshour, 40% of Americans consider political affiliation a major factor when finding a partner. The Huffington Post reported not only that Republicans and Democrats despise each other now more than they have in decades, but for most Americans, their political affiliation is dependent on disagreements with values of the opposing party, not necessarily an appreciation of those from their chosen one. Even Leon Panetta, the brilliant politician and diplomat well liked by both conservatives and liberals, conceded in his memoir, Worthy Fights, that the days of bipartisanship seem to be behind us.
When defending the Constitution through the Federalist Papers, James Madison seemingly foresaw a future of polarizing politics by stressing the importance of political compromise as a means of maintaining pluralist democracy. Without such an ability to settle, the minority voices are not only outvoted, but forgotten entirely, as interest groups cater heavily to the majority party and bipartisan issues are left unresolved.
This political disaster is not the fault of the system, nor entirely the Congress, but rather the obstinate American citizen; when the public changes their attitude towards their opposing party, those who represent them will follow the lead of their constituents, creating a better chance of bipartisan legislation being passed that satisfies a larger portion of the nation. It is thus our responsibility as conscious Americans to become receptive to opposing beliefs while simultaneously questioning the validity of our own. We can no longer afford to hold opinions without any influence from the other side of the spectrum, for this has only proven to cause gridlock and distress. In fact, the tragic massacres in Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, etc., etc., can be attributed to this political dilemma; no major gun control legislation has been nor will be passed when conservative and liberal politicians are worried to compromise in fear of political consequences. Thus, Americans are quite literally dying in the face of disagreement.
Therefore, as we continue to distance ourselves from those with opposing beliefs, we become partially responsible for the daily tragedies created by guns. If we and those who represent us refuse to find agreements and make compromises, no legislation will be passed that favors either side, causing the debate of gun control to become pointless as it is one that can no longer be solved.
So when Marco Rubio sarcastically proposed a national firearms ban at a town hall meeting after the most recent school shooting, those liberals who stood and cheered must be criticized, for this action only reinforced the conservative fear that the Left truly aims to take all their guns away instead of imposing comprehensive but fair gun control. This is woefully unproductive as this is an issue that can only be solved with support from both sides of the aisle; proposing gun bans will do nothing to reduce gun deaths. And when conservatives create and circulate a fabricated video of Emma Gonzalez and other gun control advocates vandalizing the Constitution, they too must be criticized for being irrational and unwilling to strike a balance.
As Americans involved in the political sphere, we are now tasked with understanding each other before our division takes more casualties. Liberals must concede that guns exist in a deeply rooted culture they cannot fully understand. Conservatives must concede that the ownership of firearms is a privilege reserved only for the law abiding, well-trained, rational citizen. No, combative civil war does not seem to ominously loom once more over our country—at least not according to Freedman or Kaplan. But our everlasting political war is equally polarizing and equally dangerous as it continues to create victims.
Gun control is a just a small component of the much larger problem of perpetual political division. The former issue cannot and will not be resolved until the latter has been. In this sense, it is no longer the responsibility of our representatives to fix the country’s most pressing issues, but that of our’s to create open dialogues. It is no longer enough to listen; we must agree, concede, and compromise. Without doing so, we are a broken nation, and the fault is our own.