The United States may never have been as united as we like to think.
During the Revolution, there were loyalists in the colonies opposing those fighting for independence, while in the 1780s, a significant part of the population opposed the new Constitution.
The party system started with the election of 1800, and those divisions were deep. The 1860s saw the nation split in a bloody division that left nearly a million of our fellow citizens dead. The 1900s saw Prohibition, the Red Scare, the cultural revolution of the 1960s, Watergate, and Vietnam.
The 2000s began with the contested election that ended with the Supreme Court case of Bush v. Gore. We went on to face terrorism at home and controversial wars abroad. Shootings and police brutality divided us. Gay marriage and an emerging transgender rights movement, global warming, Obamacare, and the results of the 2016 election all became wedges that allowed us to push ourselves apart in reaction.
Now we are amid a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans. Our reaction to it has shut down the U.S. economy and added trillions of dollars to our national debt. Americans are being damaged both by the disease and by fear. Americans are suffering depression from isolation, job loss, and the fear of what will happen next. This should be a time when we rally together. Instead, we seem to be again splitting apart.
As I write this, Minneapolis is on fire as protestors burn buildings and loot stores in reaction to the police killing of a seemingly unthreatening citizen. At the same time, seven people were being shot in Louisville, Kentucky, during a protest. They, too, were protesting a police shooting of a black American—this one in her own home in the middle of the night. Last weekend, protestors objecting to the COVID-19-related restrictions in Kentucky hanged the governor in effigy.
Law and order is under assault—from all sides. Maybe even more concerning is how political everything is becoming.
Government actions, police shootings, and law and order are all political, and that’s understandable. On the other hand, advice from public health officials shouldn’t be political. Requests to wear masks in privately owned stores shouldn’t be political. Choices to use medicine and efforts to support our medical community shouldn’t be political.
The great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once observed that “a sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion; to ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for the one as for the other.” Yes, we must think about politics, but only a truly sick society should think much about politics. Lewis went on to observe that a society that obsesses on politics beyond what is necessary for health may itself spawn “a new and deadly disease.”
Lewis’s warning may never have been more needed than it is today. He reminds us of what all great conservative thinkers have in the past—from John Adams down to Russell Kirk—that we think of politics only in order that we may spend time enjoying other things. Politics isn’t an “end in itself,” and politics shouldn’t consume us. When everything becomes political, there’s no haven for the human and the humane.
Why do we think of politics? We should think of politics in order to maintain safety, law and order, an economic infrastructure, and a space for private life, hobbies, worship, self-expression, and families. Politics is a means by which order is established to permit more valuable things to flourish.
For too many of us today, however, politics has become an obsession. It has become our hobby, our vocation, our means of finding identity, and of escaping blame.
When politics is everything, we lose much. We lose our ability to treat others with compassion and care. Instead of being fellow Americans, they become the “other,” the enemy. Family members are ostracized for disagreeing with us. Businesses are looted in the name of racial justice. The lives of our public figures, who are trying to do the jobs the people elected them to do, are threatened. Good businesses providing quality services are boycotted and driven out of business. Good teachers are driven from the classrooms and administrators are driven from jobs for violating the ever-changing edicts of political correctness.
I remember a few years ago when a young man I know sadly announced he would no longer go to his favorite coffee shop because he thought the owners weren’t sufficiently awakened to his vision of social justice. As I told him then, “Sometimes a good cup of coffee is just a good cup of coffee!”
Are we such a sick society that it demands all our energies be put into political battles? Or, are we becoming an ever more sick society because we’re tainting everything we do and care about with politics?
When you can’t enjoy a cup of coffee for a concern over the private values of a distant shop owner; when you can’t give political figures the benefit of the doubt in doing their jobs without threatening their lives; if we can’t be cautious and wear a mask in a public place during a pandemic without being attacked as a slave of the state; if we can’t permit a speaker on campus who disagrees with us; if we unfriend “friends” on social media because they disagree with us on politics, we have lost much of what makes life worth living.
Let’s resolve to put politics back in its box. Politics is important only when necessary to serve more important elements of human life. Not everything can be political all the time. Sometimes a good cup of coffee is just a good cup of coffee. Sometimes a public health decision is based on the best advice science can offer at that moment and not a conspiracy to take our liberties.
Sometimes we just need to love one another and care for one another and talk about the things that really make life worth living.
Gary L. Gregg is director of the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville and is the host of The McConnell Center Podcast.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.