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The Divided States of America

Like the curse that befalls a theater when the title of “The Scottish Play” is uttered aloud, nothing jinxes an old-fashioned Southern barbecue more than mentioning the name of the 16th president of the United States over the pulled pork, red rice and macaroni casserole. Mitigating the effects of the former requires the offender to exit the theater, spin around three times, spit, and then when he/she is sufficiently contrite, to knock on the theater door and beg for readmittance. If only eradicating the curse from the latter were so easy.

Although it’s not my intention to be rude or provocative here, I risk being both, as the words of the man history credits with saving the Union and freeing some of its slaves have taken up residency in my being, where they roil about, day and night, fueling my fears for this great nation. The prophetic words that have my undivided attention were delivered (against the advice of friends) on June 16, 1858 by the man-who-would-be-president on the occasion of being chosen as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from the state of Illinois. (An election he lost, by the way.) His words are, with only minor tweaks, relevant today.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Abraham Lincoln on that momentous occasion, 161 years ago this month. He then followed this scriptural reference with: “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.”

He offered a glimmer of hope tempered with a dose of reality when he continued, “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.”

In other words, he believed the U.S., as a whole, would either abolish slavery or embrace it.

Our house has been divided many times since the War Between the States. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, for example, African Americans fought to gain equal rights under the law. Dr. Martin Luther King’s call for unity was heard across the great divide: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Just when I thought that maybe, just maybe, we finally got that one right, racial tensions in our country are on the rise. Once again, anti-Semitism is tightening its grip on the throat of the nation … and the world. Capitalism is fighting for its life against socialism. Baby boomers are pitted against the millennials to whom they gave birth. It’s young versus old, rich versus poor, Christians versus atheists, LGBTQs versus straights, white men versus everybody else, all duking it out in a 21st century free-for-all, fueled by the spontaneous stupidity spewed from the likes of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.

We most definitely live in a red-state-versus-blue-state country. A 2017 PEW Research Center poll of 5,000 adults in this country states that the, “… partisan divide over political issues related to racial discrimination, immigration, international diplomacy and government aid to the needy has indeed widened significantly since the early 1990s. There was an average 36 percent difference of opinion on these issues (up from just 15 percent in 1994) across party lines — based on those identifying as or ‘leaning’ to either Democrats or Republicans. This gap dwarfed division across differences in age, gender, race, education and church attendance. These results indicate that for those who affiliate with a political party, polarization over ‘the issues’ does seem to have increased over the past 20-30 years.”

No kidding.

Just avoid talk of religion, politics or money with our friends and family at your Carolina Day or July Fourth gathering and all will be well? Not anymore. It seems there is little we can talk about with each other that won’t result in at least a war of words and at most, a brawl.

Our house is divided unlike any other time in our history, that chasm between Americans growing by the day. This time we are not struggling to overcome a single divisive issue; instead, we are witnessing the development of a million tiny cracks in our foundation — ensuring that when the next big blow inevitably comes, our sovereignty will crumble. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Make no mistake about it: This heaping of divisive issue upon divisive issue is by design. The all-powerful Wizard of Oz, made of green smoke and mirrors is but a disguise for the provocateur’s hand that’s manipulating the chess pieces on the board, perhaps that of the evil one. Despite our own growing sense that we are nothing but pawns in play, we refuse to look behind the curtain, to unmask the force threatening our freedoms.

I hope I’m wrong but as I dig for the truth, ignoring the breadcrumbs tossed in my path by the Googlonians and Wikipedians (their subtle manipulation of the truth often difficult to discern), I keep coming to the same ominous conclusions. Our house is divided. Our freedom is in danger. We, the people, are no long controlling the levels of our own destiny. But someone certainly is.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of these United States of America, gave us this warning: “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

If mentioning Lincoln’s name has offended anyone, I apologize. But to prove I’m an equal-opportunity offender, I pledge to shout the following in the next crowded theater I enter: Macbeth!

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