Political unity isn’t happening, but perhaps we can unify around a few key founding principles like the Founders themselves
The epic political battles between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton began practically on day one of the George Washington Administration, planting the seeds of the two party system as Federalists and Anti-federalists spontaneously organized themselves into competing factions that largely continue to this day.
Back then, both Jefferson and Hamilton would’ve given their lives for the fledgling country to succeed, but they disagreed intensely over how to achieve their goals. These disagreements included just about every issue facing the young United States, from the financial industry to taxation to international relations with the government’s spending and debt in between.
Does that sound at all familiar?
Today, there are topics like abortion, taxes, immigration, the size and scope of government, etc. that Republicans and Democrats will never agree on, ever.
Unity around these topics wouldn’t be a good thing in any event. We have a free press and freedom of association to make our case for the best policies and to speak our mind on the issues facing the nation. Robust debate produces a better outcome than uniform thinking.
There is another, deeper kind of unity, however, one shared by Jefferson, Hamilton, and the rest of the Founders: The knowledge that the system wasn’t perfect, but it was the best they had to work out their differences without resorting to violence.
Call it a unity around a few key principles: The federalist system, the organization of the republic, and the operation of the different branches of government as outlined in the Constitution, and the underlying philosophies of free debate and equal application of the law.
In the late 1700’s, this was an amazing leap of faith. The Bill of Rights wasn’t even ratified. The system itself was brand new and never tried, and the country as a whole faced financial and international crises we can barely even conceive of. For example, there wasn’t even a common currency between the different states, meaning money in New York usually wasn’t good in Virginia, much less any of the institutions we take for granted today.
The question for a polarized country right now is pretty simple: If men as different as Jefferson and Hamilton had faith in the founding documents before the ink was dry and the country as a whole before it really even was a country, are there any similar principles that can unite us today?
I’m talking about a few basic things like:
- Free, unfettered speech without interference from technology companies or fear of cancelling over different opinions
- Fairness and due process in both courts of law and courts of public opinion backed by a media that refuses to publish salacious and damaging stories without evidence or significant corroboration
- Violence is never acceptable, there are no so things as “mostly peaceful protests,” and riots and looting aren’t political speech
- Transparency and speaking truth to power are necessary checks on authority, regardless of whether or not the subject is a Democrat or a Republican
Is agreement around these basic topics too much to ask for in the wealthiest, most prosperous, and freest country in the world?
I hope not or I fear we’re in for a rough ride ahead.