Tuesday's non-debate revealed America's great divide
Students of American history who watched the Trump-Biden "debate" might well have felt a sense of déjà vu.
America has been there, done that.
On May 22, 1856, Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina stormed into the old Senate chambers where Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was fiddling around with copies of his famous anti-slavery speech, "Crime against Kansas." Brooks took out a metal, tipped cane and summarily beat the unsuspecting Senator Sumner unconscious.
Brooks canes Sumner (Graphic via US Senate)
Brooks's attack trenchantly signified that the long debate about slavery was pretty much over. It was a sign that the nation's great deliberative body was beyond deliberation when it came to slavery. Though the issue remained front and center for more years, the endless discussions over slavery and political solutions like the Compromise of 1850 carefully crafted by Henry Clay became almost pointless. Pro- and anti-slavery factions and pro- and anti-Union states were left to duel it out in the Civil War. Absolutely opposed viewpoints over two main issues meant that the entire nation was at loggerheads.
America once again finds itself divided into two irreconcilable camps over two irreconcilable issues: the continuance of a constitutionally based Republic and the human rights issue of abortion. The shouting match termed a "debate" revealed the irreconcilable divide as surely as the riots in our streets have demonstrated the end of dialogue between polar opposites concerning governance and law.
Will the constitutional Republic stand, or will it be fundamentally transformed into a socialist state or states? Will the definition of a human being include the unborn, or will human beings, as in the Dred Scott case, continue to be only partly human as the law defines humanity and as regulations vary from state to state?
Because of diametrically opposed worldviews — the one with remnants of the Judeo-Christian ethic and the other a radically secular leftism — America's fractured political parties have moved beyond debate, beyond reason to emotion, beyond formerly core understandings about human life and governance.
Abraham Lincoln wrote about the great divide of his times in his famous "A House Divided" speech, given in 1858.
Addressing the Convention, he commented on the unceasing agitation accompanying the issue of slavery, saying the unrest would not cease until the matter was resolved one way or another: "it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand."
I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. 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.
It will become all one thing or all the other.
Observers of the debate Tuesday could see the differences between Trump and Biden clearly. They could see two representatives with differing foundational beliefs about the nation and human rights. Their viewpoints were so clearly opposite there is no longer an excuse to pretend their beliefs can be debated, much less subjected to compromise.
In short, the shouting duel that commenced and continued throughout the evening revealed the great and irreconcilable divide.
The only thing missing was the cane.
Fay Voshell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.