The foundational cause of our discontent is not complicated:
Liberty and Equality are diametrically opposed!
Pure Liberty declares that every person can do whatever he or she wishes.
Pure Equality declares that every person must sacrifice for the good of all.
The Declaration of Independence unintentionally confuses us by melding these two essential but conflicting concepts in this often quoted sentence:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
How many of us realize that we are talking out of both sides of our mouth when we praise America as a country that champions Liberty and Equality?
How many of us realize that…
American Conservatives are the Army of Liberty
American Liberals are the Army of Equality
Conservatives fight to be free of governmental interference in what they say and do, including what they do with their wealth: education, health care, and a living wage are earned privileges and not rights in the Land of Liberty.
Liberals fight to use taxes to redistribute wealth and laws to protect the economically and politically disadvantaged: education, health care, and a living wage are rights and not privileges in the Land of Equality.
The Armies of Equality and Liberty have been at war figuratively and literally (The Civil War) since the beginning of the Republic, but for most of our history, we have avoided armed conflict. Why?
The answer is suggested by the motto of France, which was born (along with other refrains) during the French Revolution:
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
Fraternity includes the concepts of brotherhood, kinship, solidarity, and union. Said another way, Fraternity is that which holds a tribe together. When there are disagreements within a tribe, Fraternity is the emotional something that fosters resolution through compromise.
Although the leaders of the American Armies of Liberty and Equality have long advocated their particular sides of the diametrically-opposed points of view, those leaders were able to negotiate and reach workable compromises because they understood that regardless of the army to which they belonged, they all belonged to the American Tribe.
In that year, Fox News and MSNBC were created as propaganda machines that could be used to recruit soldiers for each army, which these networks did with success.
In 2004, Facebook provided the means for individual soldiers to not only recruit more soldiers for their side; Facebook provided the means to alienate, shame and diminish those on the other side.
By 2008, the American Tribe was splitting apart, and like other primates who seek shelter within the protection of a tribe when they feel endangered, millions of Americans began to abandon the American Tribe to join one of two other tribes defended by either the Army of Liberty or the Army of Equality, each of which claimed (and continues to claim) allegiance to a true American Tribe.
A minority of these deserters have joined more secretive tribes that operate covertly within one army or the other with the goal of, someday, carrying out a coup that will replace Puritan John Winthrop’s biblical metaphor of the city on the hill that will be “the light of the world” with a dark and evil city where opponents feel the swords of retribution and persecution.
Today, like howler monkeys in the canopies of Central American forests, we scream at members of the opposing tribe from the relative safety of our devices, continually escalating our screams because we believe our survival depends upon “winning” the confrontation. But the more we howl, the more the others howl, which results in a deafening escalation that increases the anxiety of our compatriots in the trees, and perhaps even within ourselves.
There is little that is “sapiens” about American behavior today. Our primate brains have taken control of too many millions of us, including those in positions of power, as we scream—literally and figuratively—at one another. If one tribe begins to dominate the other, and the threat of extinction by death or assimilation feels real, screaming will escalate (and has) into physical violence against “the other.”
Our American Tribe has been split asunder, perhaps for all time, by obeisance to one or the other of two diametrically-opposed concepts that we, in our collective ignorance, do not realize have actually created (and could continue to create) opportunities for unifying compromise within our tribe, compromise that once reconciled differences and provided the power that used to illuminate our land as well as lands beyond our borders.
The Great Irony of the American Dream is that we have failed to understand the importance of the compromises required by the cornerstone concepts of our Democracy: Equality and Liberty. This failure is the Foundational Cause of our American Discontent.
Compromise is possible within a tribe.
Compromise is not possible between two tribes that have millions of individuals in the treetops screaming back and forth at one another.
Becoming one tribe again, as we had been before 1996, may require nothing less than desperation born of devastation, but it also could be brought about by a unifying Savior; unfortunately, there is no one yet in view who appears ready to fulfill that daunting role.