This House Divided

Published: July 4, 2022

By Jim Lichtman
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Michael Nigro/Sipa USA via The Associated Press

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it . . . ‘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. . . .”—A. Lincoln

In our current political context, we can easily substitute slave for extremism and free with half a resolute electorate.

According to The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there are currently 488 anti-government groups and 733 hate groups. Their tools are disinformation and false conspiracy theories that are inciting attacks against democracy by way of social media platforms.

“Right now,” the SPLC writes, “the real world consequences of this extremist rise in power look like voter suppression targeting people of color, attacks on free speech and education, the erosion of the rights and safety of transgender and gay people, and the deadly terror attacks inspired by a racist conspiracy theory.”

How do we rid ourselves of an extremism that threatens the rule of law and democracy?

First, put pressure on your elected representatives in Congress to do more in speaking out against hate and false conspiracies. Make clear that they need to come forward, publicly and state that there is no room in this democracy for hate and violence.

While vote-rights legislation around the country is changing in states, it is more important than ever to speak out where and when necessary.

One solution, SPLC says is to “be a voice for tolerance and reason in your communities and virtual spaces. Speak out against hate and injustice whenever you see it because silence creates fertile ground for bigotry.”

Report any actions by an extremist group to local police.

While Robert Kennedy was writing of crime and violence in America during the chaos of the 60s, his words carry even more significance today.

“We know that it is law which enables men to live together, that creates order out of chaos. We know that law is the glue that holds civilization together. And we know that if one man’s rights are denied, the rights of all others are endangered. . . .

“To meet the challenge of our times, so that we can later look back upon this era not as one of which we need be ashamed but as a turning point on the way to a better America, we must first defeat the enemy within.”—Robert F. Kennedy

Lincoln’s closing lines to his “House divided” speech offer hope . . . if we have the will to act, rightly.

“The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail.

“Wise councils may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later the victory is sure to come.”

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