FEATURE — “What’s a civil war?” my youngest asked me as he crawled into bed late Tuesday night. We had been watching election returns as a family and as much as my husband and I had tried to keep a certain level of calm and perspective in our home, he had seen the electoral maps. He had heard the division.
“A civil war is when brothers fight against brothers,” I told him. The worry on his face expanded as he looked out the bedroom door to one of his own brothers sitting beyond in a large, plush beanbag and I realized my blunder.
“I mean figurative brothers. Not necessarily you and your brothers,“ I continued. “Civil war is when people who live in the same country fight against each other.”
“But what do they fight about?” he questioned.
The truthful answer? About everything: religion, social values, economic disparity, political control. And people have fought everywhere: America, Rome, Rwanda, Russia. And throughout time: in 49 B.C., and 1642, in 1861, 1917 and 1990.
“Well, I hope we don’t do that again. I hope America doesn’t fight itself,” he concluded as he pulled his covers up over his prone body.
I told him I agreed and then changed the subject to something more sleep-inducing. But I kept thinking about our conversation long after he was asleep. And even into the night when I should have been asleep, too.
The next morning, my husband had a different solution on his mind. “We need to start talking about splitting up America into separate countries,” he offered unemotionally.
I was anything but unemotional about that suggestion. “What do you mean?,” I questioned choking on my tea and toasted waffle. “Are you crazy? We can’t just split up America. We’re America. As in the United States of.”
“That’s exactly my point,” he countered. “We aren’t united at all. The divisions aren’t going anywhere. Just look at the electoral map.”
In 1858, as he accepted the nomination for what would turn out to be an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, Abe Lincoln spoke about the perils of a divided country. “A house divided against itself, cannot stand. . . It will become all one thing or all the other.”
Of course, Lincoln had been talking about the divisions of slave and free. Today, we are equally divided. Into red and blue. Fox News and CNN.
Each side is convinced the other is crazy and determined to ruin America. And thanks to the echo-chambers of social media, every day we are more convinced of the truth of our position.
My husband continued talking through what a physically divided America could look like as he sat at the kitchen bar. “California, Oregon, Washington would go together for sure. And maybe Nevada,” he mused.
“Then maybe Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona and New Mexico could be another country. Texas would have to be on its own – well, Texas plus Oklahoma, but we’d have to call the whole thing Texas because you know what Texas is like.”
The more he talked, the worse I felt. Charles Dickens’ words came to mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
But the pendulum cannot swing forever. We know Abe Lincoln was right. “A house divided against itself, cannot stand … It will become all one thing or all the other.”
I hope that one thing is not a more divided America – or the end to the United States. Brothers are not meant to fight against brothers. Even if history says otherwise.
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