Prying apart the sides: George Washington on our current situation

We’re coming up on the Fourth of July, Independence Day here in the U.S.

Whether to wear a mask during a pandemic is a political issue. So is whether to actually keep testing; apparently, if we don’t test, nobody is confirmed to have the pandemic disease, which means it went away.

Black Lives Matter is still more of a shouted plea than a reality. Blue Lives Matter is its obverse, as though we could only care about black people OR police.

People are getting fired for stuff that was perfectly reasonable when they were doing it. I suppose I’m supposed to take those Mark Twain novels off my shelf. You should see the language in those.

The New York Times wanted to do a feature on a popular science blogger who wanted to maintain semi-anonymity so he could keep his job, but they refused to leave out his last name, so he took down his blog, effectively killing the story, and making his large readership (and those who are new to his blog because of the newfound attention) get creative in seeking posts archived elsewhere. If you think internet anonymity is dumb for people who don’t earn a living online, ask Zoe Margolis how her life changed. She just wanted to blog about sex in peace.

Soon after the book was published, The Sunday Times published an article which revealed the identity of the author as Zoe Margolis, an assistant director in the film industry. Margolis described the experience as “nightmare,” “hell” and “fiasco,” writing about how deeply it affected her personal life and caused her to lose her career in the film industry.
After having her anonymity removed, Margolis went into hiding for a while. She chose to present her view in the media giving an interview to The Guardian and writing an article for The Independent, in order to balance the tabloid press. Despite losing her anonymity, she continued to write the blog.

I’m sure George Washington is out of favor right now. He was our first president, sure, but he was a slave owner, a military general who took up arms against his native country, and (gasp!) a Freemason (which holds more of a tin-foil-hat conspiracy place in the U.S. but is a big deal in parts of Europe).

You may have heard reference, recently, to the fact that Washington warned against forming, specifically, two political parties in his presidential farewell address, but let’s take a look at what he actually said.

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts.

The initial thought, then, was that parties were likely to form based on geographic distinctions. Turns out he wasn’t entirely incorrect. Obviously the Civil War represented some geographic tearing apart. The coasts these days largely lean Democratic with the interior of the country leaning Republican. Larger cities, too, lean Democratic, with suburbs, exurbs and rural areas getting progressively more Republican.

But note, more importantly, that Washington points out one of the worst things a party will do, when there are only two parties, is make false claims about what the other party wants and is doing.

You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

You cannot shield yourselves against it. The parties will render us alien to each other, even though we ought to be bound together. United States? Not with two parties.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

The ruins of public liberty!

Two parties, in Washington’s view, will go back and forth and try to consolidate power in a party leader until the leaders of the respective parties have corrupted everything so much public liberty itself is in jeopardy. Are we there? Some might argue we are. If we’re not there, we’re getting closer.

Until we step out from behind our Ds and our Rs and all the other things that divide us, there’s only regression. We’re not growing as a people, and we won’t. When it’s news that a black guy and a white guy are drinking beer together, we’re headed the wrong direction. News is for anomalies, things that stand out. This should just be two people having a normal afternoon, not national news.

Let’s all step back, take a breath, and start over. As people.


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