Historians, political scientists and commentators counsel us that division always has defined us. To apply that Tablet “Hate Each Other” rubric to our history, we know that the Hamiltonians hated the Jeffersonians, the abolitionists hated the slaveholders, the progressives hated the Gilded Age businessmen, the interventionists hated the America Firsters, the Goldwaterites hated the Great Society architects. Our national anthem might as well be Tom Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week” song from 1965, with a line that might summarize our history: “All of my folks hate all of your folks/It’s American as apple pie.”
“The decades of American cohesion experienced mainly between 1920 and 1960 were an anomaly,” B. Duncan Moench, a lecturer at Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, wrote in that Tablet piece, explaining that “the success of Franklin Roosevelt, the New Deal, and the ‘liberal consensus’ that followed briefly afterward were the result merely of Roosevelt’s unique political genius and the tail winds of winning two world wars while all most of Eurasia was reduced to rubble.”
Moench argued that this cohesion was consolidated during the Cold War. There were divisions then, to be sure, some of which emerged during the civil rights period, when two currents collided: the effort to preserve the racial divide and the drive for a new cohesion of opportunity by closing the racial divide. It’s a good starting point for understanding our current conundrum.