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Who Is Dividing Americans? And Why?

Who Is Dividing Americans? And Why?

In a podcast interview with Jordan Peterson, country musician and internet sensation Oliver Anthony expressed puzzlement over the divided state of America.

“We’ve gotten to a point where it’s easier for us to try find differences and faults in each other instead of similarities,” he began, before offering a corrective: “We all hold much more common ground than we do difference.” Anthony explained:

We’re all very biologically similar. We all have to acquire some amount of money. Most of us have ambitions of raising a family or at least developing friendships. I’d say 90 percent of the people that at least exist in North America are very similar in almost every way, but we’ve somehow found the nitpick, arbitrary differences that we hold, and we exploit those and blow those up. …

We are more divided today than we’ve ever been. Everything’s politicized, everything is about one party or one person trying to hold some moral high ground over the other just for the sake of being able to point their finger down at them.

It’s hard to disagree with his assessment.

Oliver Anthony shot to fame last August thanks to his song “Rich Men North of Richmond,” which explores themes similar to those he spoke of with Dr. Peterson. His blue-collar ballad, as it has been dubbed, laments the failures of a political class more invested in their own power than helping work-a-day Americans achieve economic independence and freedom from welfare dependence, addiction, and despair.

It is a simple message that has echoed through the ages—from the class divisions in ancient Greece and Rome, through the feudal system and peasant revolts of the Middle Ages, to the Protestant Reformation, the French and American Revolutions, and more modern struggles over workplace and civil rights.

Or, in the simple but profound words of African-American poet Phyllis Wheatley, “In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.”

In short, in the West, the perennial political struggle of humanity is a vertical one against power, not a horizontal one against our peers. This alone should be a tip-off that not everything is as it seems in modern-day America—or the West as a whole.

Ostensibly, the great political showdown today is left versus right, liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican. That’s certainly the message being portrayed on cable news and spread ad infinitum on social media, where the world is apparently in meltdown and where a national schism seems imminent.

In truth, as Oliver Anthony has observed, there is far more that unites most Americans than what divides them. Academia, newsrooms, boardrooms, and capitol buildings are a world unto themselves. Down here in the real world, Americans are just a few notches away from each other, including on most social issues.

What matters to the majority of Americans are issues such as a strong economy, safe communities, accessible healthcare, quality education, the illegal drug crisis, and immigration. These are not left-and-right issues. They are the national bread and butter.

While we may disagree on policy specifics and controversial figureheads, it can hardly be denied that the populist movements that have arisen across the Western world over the last decade are primarily a continuation of the vertical political struggle of the ages, not a horizontal one. Think Occupy Wall Street, Trump, Brexit, Yellow Vests, Orbán, Milei, Le Pen, Wilders, and the more recent European farmers’ protests.

To put it another way, these movements do not primarily pose an existential threat to liberal or progressive causes. Rather, they pose an existential threat to the global elite who wish to maintain their stranglehold on power. Nothing can upset the status quo of concentrated power and wealth like political transparency, national sovereignty, inalienable human freedoms, grassroots governance, free and fair elections, media independence, and a censorship-free internet.

We have become accustomed to hearing that such-and-such is a “threat to democracy.” Maybe we should be asking ourselves if this is a manipulation of language—and whether, in truth, it is unchecked power and autocracy that are under threat when people unite to champion basic freedoms.

Political divisions in America run deep, and not all will be healed this side of eternity. But progress will be made and unity forged when we recognize the simple fact that our struggle is primarily vertical. Beware that the animosity you feel for your apparent political enemies may be manufactured in order to divert your focus from where it really belongs.

Image credit: Unsplash

Kurt Mahlburg
Kurt Mahlburg

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  • Avatar
    Rick Gordon
    March 20, 2024, 9:02 pm

    I’m in full agreement with this author. We are all Americans who are fortunate to live in a free country with rights many in the world envy. Don’t fall for the cult of victims that the media and politicians want you to join – so you will support them. Better to get to work , raise a family, and contribute to your community. We are one country- not a bunch of identity groups fighting each other while supporting those who profit from these divisions.

  • Avatar
    Bruce E. Brown
    March 21, 2024, 6:21 am

    Very simple and unrecognized factual article. In my opinion, the fastest way to recognize how good we have life in America, is to travel abroad for a few weeks. See different cultures. See how many of the points in Kurt's article differentiate America from other countries, and then you, or the traveler, will abruptly reconsider how bad America is, or even better-
    how WONDERFUL it is!

  • Avatar
    sally L sweet
    March 22, 2024, 7:59 am

    Mahlburg mentions that Oliver Anthony's song is called "Blue Collar Blues," but then supports the singer's message that we all have more in common than differences. Quite ironic.
    I love "Rich Men North of Richmond, " and I admire Oliver Anthony. As I run errands around town, I experience people of all races and ethnicities being quick to initiate a smile or to return mine, and I come home feeling good about America. "Can't we all get along?" Yes we can!

    But those interaction don't require intimacy. Among family members, divisions become manifest and are difficult to finesse. I have family members who won't read anything that is labeled conservative or listen to a song by a country singer or one from the rural South. They don't rebut, but instead, they "prebut" as directed by elitist keepers of the socialist flame.

    Try as we may to avoid religion and politics as etiquette suggests, in order to maintain closeness and seek common ground, we have a hard time avoiding all topics except the weather.
    Oh, that's off limits too. Same for food and recipes and lighthearted subjects. It seems that everything is politicized, because one's world view colors all topics. "How's your dog?" can evoke a retort, "He's fine, even though he's a mixed breed from the Humane Society, not an expensive purebred like your lab. We like to rescue animals in need."
    Remember the song "Imagine." We don't all want our U.S. border to be secure. Some people are committed to socialism, and they travel, as Mahlburg mentions, and they don't feel like kissing the ground when they return. They love the countries they visit and want Americans to imitate those countries. They want a world without borders, without religion, and would favor peace at any price. Some favor abortion up to birth. They support euthanasia. Our sons have absorbed our values, but the rest of the family is in synch with John Lennon's "Imagine." I continue to host Thanksgiving , Christmas, and upcoming Easter festivities. We finesse our differences by taking pleasant walks and watching the wading birds and botanical displays. It means avoiding all substantive areas of human existence. We disagree vertically and horizontally.

  • Avatar
    March 25, 2024, 9:52 am

    “I think all our society is run by insane people for insane objectives… I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal means. If anybody can put on paper what our government and the American government and the Russian… Chinese… what they are actually trying to do, and what they think they’re doing, I’d be very pleased to know what they think they’re doing. I think they’re all insane. But I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”
    John Lennon

  • Avatar
    March 25, 2024, 5:21 pm

    Personally, as a Straight White Male, I'm no longer interested in trying to achieve "unity" with people who so consistently express their hatred of me.

    It's simply not worth investing in a lost cause because rose-colored glasses are fashionable.


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