It’s said there are two kinds of people: those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t. Over/Under toilet paper mounting, ketchup/no ketchup on French Fries, Coke/Pepsi, steak-and-potatoes/sushi-and-escargot…
I’m re-reading John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. It comes to me that a general dichotomy of perspective has existed from day one in the USA. It appears as early as the process of designing the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It is a dichotomy of perspective that almost sank the good ship USA before it was launched.
Basically, the two positions are (1) the union is primary. (2) the separate states, regions, precincts; indeed, individual persons, take priority. The latter was based upon a fear the colonists brought with them: that all centralized government (and especially a monarchy) would become tyrannical. Their solution was as little government as possible. It remains a valid concern.
The former was based on the democratic ideal of a centralized, representative government deriving power from the people.
It’s tragic and historically self-destructive when those different positions are seen as opposing, rather than mutually edifying.
In 1776, the divisive issue was slavery. It was not settled until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Sadly, when slavery was abolished, the two sides found another whipping boy and continued—indeed, the same two sides continue today—to find ways (1) to defend the union at all costs or (2) to play the secession card when things aren’t pleasing. It’s been that way since 1776. And it’s bi-partisan.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, the debate raged. To preserve the balance of power, the Missouri Compromise, engineered by Henry Clay, allowed Maine to enter as a free state, and Missouri as a slave state. The compromise stipulated that subsequent states would be admitted, alternating between free and slave.
As tensions heated up, it became increasingly evident that the stalemate over slavery was irresolvable. Massachusetts Senator, Daniel Webster, a skilled and refined orator and statesman, and Missouri Senator, Thomas Hart Benton, rough-hewn, self-educated and fiercely independent, took similar stands in favor of preserving the union, and it cost them their political careers. The free states insisted that the union must abolish slavery, and the slave states threatened—and eventually made good on their threats—to secede.
From the beginning, America essentially has been the product of these two sides: (1) preserve the union at all costs, (2) my-way-or-I’m-gone. Both have been bi-partisan. Hard-headedness has no party; and compromise is seen by hard-headed people as weakness, surrender and betrayal. Our history is paved, not on negotiation, compromise or diplomacy, but rather in wheeling and dealing and partisan dominance.
Post-WWII prosperity seemed to make the partisan slugfests in Washington irrelevant. But it was still there, and that same prosperity provided the doorway to the next level of the Union vs. territorial dominance debate. First through TV (the Vietnam War and the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, etc. came into our living rooms, exposing to the world that the American Camelot had clay feet) and now through social media, the uproar and disorder have come out of the smoke-filled rooms to infect the general public. The age of innocence is past.
There still are those who place a primary value on the union itself; and there still are those who say “If you don’t do what I want, I’ll take my marbles and go home.” And, again, I find all parties equally guilty.
I am a unionist. I am a Christian, and the writer of Ephesians identifies unity as the “secret of God’s will” (Eph. 1:10). I believe nothing is more important to God that the unity of creation. That’s a theological belief, and I have a right to hold it and share it. I have no right to inflict it on anyone or legislate it into the fabric of our nation. (Besides, I think the Constitution already has woven it into the national fabric.)
I also am a conflict resolution consultant, and I believe any difference can be resolved, if—and only if—both parties truly want resolution. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people want resolution. Most just want to win the fight.
Even for those willing to seek resolution, the effort too often fails because the problem is defined in terms of solutions—or desires or preferences—rather than in terms of needs. When identified needs take precedence, solutions usually present themselves, and usually are better than anything either party previously sought.
In the case of our nation’s internal feud, what if we define our needs as “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (sic), promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity?” Of course, there still would be issues of definition. We don’t agree on what “justice” means, or “general welfare;” or even “common defence;” therefore, we’re back to square one: what “needs” are raised by considerations of “justice”? What needs are exposed in a consideration of “the general welfare?
A good consultant will push until those needs are identified and until everyone’s needs are met. It can be done! I’ve seen it happen in dozens of family conflicts; I’ve seen it happen in industrial settings between management and labor, I’ve seen it happen between a school board and a teachers’ union (my funniest experience involved a PTO—with a “pushy” president with attitude—and the school administration); I’ve seen it happen in a deadlocked, totally ineffectual city council, and I’ve seen it happen in church after church.
It can happen! We are better than this. And we are better together! “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25).
That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
 The preamble to the Constitution of the United States, in which the framers laid out the purposes for the Constitution and for the government created by that same Constitution.
 Abraham Lincoln quoted this text in his speech accepting the Illinois Republican nomination for US Senate, June 16, 1858.