Where do we go now to come together? It is all about activism and service? Could it be about something simpler, but perhaps more difficult? Friendships with people with whom we disagree? How to we rebuild the house that is divided?
We have firmly become flat characters in narratives. The good and the evil. The pink hatted; the red hatted. We hear the same words of the new President; for some it is hopeful and others hateful. Why? Because we are human and we want to belong to the tribe that surrounds us, and so we speak to belong? It is nothing new. We have turned on each other as Americans have in the past. What is the way out?
Let us go back in time for perspective. It is June 16, 1858, and we are listening to Lincoln’s House Divided Speech during his unsuccessful bid for a Senate Seat. Although beloved now, it was very controversial at the time. The words cost Lincoln the Senatorial election, but it made him a statesman for the world and all time.
On June 16, 1858 more than 1,000 delegates met in the Springfield, Illinois, statehouse for the Republican State Convention. At 5:00 p.m. they chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the U.S. Senate, running against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. At 8:00 p.m. Lincoln delivered this address to his Republican colleagues in the Hall of Representatives. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” a concept familiar to Lincoln’s audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).
“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.
Even Lincoln’s friends regarded the speech as too radical for the occasion. His law partner, William H. Herndon, considered Lincoln as morally courageous but politically incorrect. Herndon saw the political price for the words, “when I saw Senator Douglas making such headway against Mr. Lincoln’s house divided speech I was nettled & irritable, and said to Mr. Lincoln one day this — ‘Mr. Lincoln — why in the world do you not say to Mr. Douglas, when he is making capital out of your speech, — ‘Douglas why whine and complain to me because of that speech. I am not the author of it. God is. Go and whine and complain to Him for its revelation, and utterance.’ Mr. Lincoln looked at me one short quizzical moment, and replied ‘I can’t.'”
Herndon said later “Lincoln as a statesman, and political philosopher, announced an eternal truth — not only as broad as America, but covers the world.”
I was lucky enough to be in DC for the Inauguration and at the Women’s March both of which were attended by friends that were passionately participating in citizenship that the ceremonies, galas and on the streets. I saw how moved my friends J and K were to the words of the Inauguration Speech. Let’s take a look at what was said. Where is the what so and where we can agree? Here is what I can agree with. Let’s talk about these things. Can we?
- True. A nation exists to serve its citizens.
- True. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.
- True. But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
- Great idea. We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.
- Great idea. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
- I like this. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.
- I like this too. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.
- I like this. We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.