Upon accepting the Republican nomination for United States Senate from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. ... I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”
In 1858, the division had a clear name and object: slavery. That terrible cause would drive America toward dissolution and civil war. Today, those words come back with particular power. Whoever becomes president will govern a deeply divided nation, the election has shown. But the cause has no clear name or object. Neither immigration nor racial justice nor socialism quite encapsulates the burning cause.
Indeed, the closest cause would most likely be “ourselves” – our fear and misunderstanding of one another, divided along borders of red and blue, urban and rural, Black and white, white collar and blue collar. Lincoln could point at a thing to be remedied. Americans today can point only to their own hearts. Elections and legislative bills avail little because it is truly a battle for the soul of the nation. Can America handle the mounting stresses of diversity – be they racial or ideological or any other form – with the founders’ unshakable assurance of “e pluribus unum” – “out of many, one”?
The coming months and years will be a test of Americans’ commitment to the very core of the American experiment – to one another as Americans. Only then, “it will cease to be divided.”
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