“Familiarity breeds contempt” is an old expression that like many others, remains true even though it is widely ignored. Proof of this is all round us, as Americans know more about one another than at any time in history. The more we know, the less we like about one another. The reason for this is we have never been one people or anything close to a nation. For most of our history, we have barely been a country. Now we get to see this reality every day on our media platforms.
From the very beginning, from the first settlement, America was a land with people, rather than a people with a land. The people who settled New England were very different from those that settled the South. In fact, those were groups of Englishmen with a long history of not liking one another. The Puritan settlers were on one side of the English Civil War, while the people of the South were on the other. To this day, that animosity shows up in a million little ways.
Even within states there is not a lot of unity. Pennsylvania is a big state with at least three distinct cultures. The people that populated the western part of the state are different from those in the east. That was true from the beginning. It turns up today in cultural habits and especially in voting habits. You could break the state into three smaller states and the people would not care. The fact is, they have never been a unified people loyal to one another.
The colonies and then the new country were a dumping ground from the very beginning for people not all that interested in nation and country. People did not leave the old world for the new because they felt a need to be part of a unified people. Either they were indifferent to it or hostile to it. The original settlers left the Old World to live in the woods with savages because they were done with the Old World. This has remained true, for the most part, to this very day.
The Founders understood this, which is why they tried to avoid creating a strong central government fit for a unified nation. Their first go at it was a loose confederation of states that were free to operate as they thought best. The next go at it was the constitutional framework we pretend to have today. The chief feature of this new structure was that the national government was sharply limited in its powers, outside of a few areas that served the needs of all of the sovereign states.
Much of what vexes modern America is rooted in the fact that the ruling class is oblivious to this reality. They endlessly blather on about the need to unify the country around this or that issue. Their propaganda is drenched in saccharine messages about the need to be unified. The defining characteristic of the modern plutocrat is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, is thinking for himself. They are hellbent on uniting a people with no interested in being united.
The quickest way to social peace is to unplug the internet and shutter the public affairs shows on television. If all of a sudden people had to go across town to tell someone that they did not like their politics, they would not do it. In a flash, a disunited and disagreeable people would be minding their own business. The liquored-up harpies on social media would have to join the church or a local civic association if they wanted to gossip about people they barely know.
Obviously, that would not be the end of it, but there is no denying that the increasing social friction is rooted in our increasing familiarity. America has always been a land of many people, a house with many mansions. The reason most of the people are here is they did not want to be around the people over there. Even in America, that mentality has held since the beginning. The migration west was as much about getting away from the people back east as starting new on the frontier.
The great patriotic struggle in the first part of the last century convinced the American ruling class they could and must unite the country. After all, if they could unite the nation to beat the Depression and Fascism, why not poverty and inequality? Why not unite around defeating racism and being mean to people? Not only are they hell bent on uniting a disunited people, they now strive to unite the world. Their new unitarian creed has them as the one true god of us all.
What they are is a lid on a boiling pot of water. The more the water boils, the more the lid is pressed down. America is a pressure cooker right now because the ruling class keeps the lid firmly on, while cranking up the heat. They are under the delusion that if they can just keep it all locked inside, that lid firmly on the top, the whole will suddenly become one. They have been convinced that “E pluribus unum” is their calling, rather than a cheap slogan on our money.
Conservatives get grief for always saying that the solution for our troubles is to get back to our constitutional principles. They should get grief as what we need is to get back to the reason America exists at all. It is a land of people, lots of different people, not a people with a land. There can be local community and regional unity, but this is not a nation and it can never be a unified country. What will bring peace, is what always kept the peace. That is peaceful separation.
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