National politics in the U.S. has not been so divisive since the American Civil War 150 years ago. Similar to the period leading up to the American Civil War, our nation is divided along entrenched ideological lines. Unlike the Civil War, the possible second term of a sitting president may well further divide the Union.
Presidents Lincoln and Obama—leaders caught in the middle of historic downturns of national economies and civility—share some qualities, among them their home state of Illinois and the vitriolic relationship between Americans who share the same country.
Yet, at the end of the day, we are one people, occupying one nation. As such, despite our political differences, civility should be the predicate to patriotism.
Shortly after the mid-term elections, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), stated publicly that the Republican Party’s top priority was not to make our nation a more perfect union, but to limit President Obama to one term.
Similarly, the highest-ranking member of the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), since taking office in 2010 has led a transparent band of Republican obstructionists in Congress who opposed any and every major policy proposal of the Obama administration. Worst still, Speaker Boehner has been unwilling or unable to corral the vulgar words and actions of so-called “Tea Party” members of the Republican Party. For example, he stood with House colleagues who furled banners over the Capitol railings in support of Tea Party protesters as they spit on African American Democratic Congressmen who walked through crowds to enter the Capitol Building.
And let us not forget the first State of the Union address by President Obama before a joint session of Congress in which Congressman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) uncivilly interrupted the president, yelling, “You lie!” Really? Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi should have called the Sergeant at Arms and removed Joe Wilson from the chambers. What Wilson’s wrath demonstrated was the devolution of basic respect, or in the words of my Mother dear, “common courtesy.”
Most recently, the Republican Party chair in Mecklenburg County, Va., R. Wallace “Wally” Hudson, posted repugnant images of President Obama on the official County Republican Web site. The irreverent images depicted the president as an African witch doctor, caveman, and thug. Hudson first responded the images were spoofs in good fun, only to later claim First Amendment “free speech” protection.
America is supposed to be a better nation than such words and actions reflect. Maybe Maya Angelou is right when she says our nation is the “Yet-to-Be United States of America.” Perhaps Frederick Douglass was prophetic when he opined, “There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people [White people] have loyalty enough, honor enough, and patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution.” Certainly, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was correct when he reminded us, “We must live together as brothers and sisters or perish separately as fools.”
On Nov. 7, 2012, the day after the presidential elections, all Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and more progressive political parties—must make manifest the words, Red, Yellow, Brown, Black, and White, we are all precious in God’s sight.
We are one. Let respect rule our words and actions. Anything less is un-American.
Gary L. Flowers is executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc. He can be reached at glfl[email protected]