Is our time uniquely polarizing or are we uniquely American?

'Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.' After the painting by J. Mund.
‘Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.’ After the painting by J. Mund.
‘Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.’ After the painting by J. Mund.

 

Thinking over the start of this holiday season about the oft-reported polarizing nature of modern media, politics and American ideology as a whole, I looked back at our country’s history for hopeful guidance on how our forefathers handled the divisive conditions of their own times.

It is true PEW research into American ideology came to the conclusion that the country is more divided along ideological lines than any point in the last two decades. Other research argues that we as a nation may not be as divided as we think. It is instead, perhaps, we just don’t love talking politics all the time.

Chris L. Kenny
Chris L. Kenny

Our own news and political climate notwithstanding. I wanted to know: What did our leaders think about the inherent divisive and polarizing conditions natural to disagreement, varied opinions, ideologies and politics in America? 

One way to look at the question is to consider what our forefathers would think about our own times, which provides a proxy for what their political climate was like. Many writers, journalists, historians and pundits have considered the question this way and many have come to the same conclusion: Our competing politics and ideas are not only essential but might be what also make us uniquely American.

In journalist and political analyst Juan Williams’ “We The People,” he seeks not to judge contemporary political times but rather describe our nation’s essential characteristics throughout the history of the country. Similarly, the nation’s founders viewed different political parties as a necessary evil. The Founding Fathers all held beliefs and ideas that varied across the political spectrum

 

If you think modern times are polarizing in America, we can look back at similar periods of contention in our nation’s history for comparison.

Take for example Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaigns and tenure as President. The election of 1828 was so brutal, there were ad hominin attacks and dirty tricks that you might expect to see only come from modern political dogfights.

Jackson as president did perhaps more than any other president to solidify American Federalism, but he was also responsible for events such as the Trail of Tears. A truly polarizing President indeed.

Other Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin held beliefs ranging across the political spectrum. Franklin steadfastly supported capitalistic systems and warned against the growth of the welfare state, while also supporting focused, effective policies of taxation with true representation. 

 

James Madison in “The Federalist Papers” explained why America’s unique system of governance allows for not only a powerfully centralized government with proper checks and balances but one that was made up of competing values, states and groups of people, making the whole that much stronger.

“Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests… [Y]ou make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens,” he wrote.

E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

Allowing competing ideas and considerations to flow freely in our nation’s discourse is a foundational principle of what makes our system so unique and equitable. All voices should be heard, no matter how small or quiet it is.

 

Yet while much of the mainstream media is so often focused on stoking political divides, my goal as a local media owner with Delaware Live is to simply service all of our community. That means providing news, journalism and community updates for everyone across the state.

Our goal is to bring all of Delaware the news you want to hear about, read about and watch. So how are we doing? Are we covering the issues and topics that matter most to you? What do you think our forefathers would say? 

Until next time, thanks for reading,

Chris L. Kenny is the founder of Delaware Live, and Founder’s Folio is his editorial blog for Delaware Live. For more about Kenny, follow him on his website and blog at chrislkenny.com

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