By Joe Darby
Last week, if you will recall, I vented about what I consider the dangerously poor shape of our two main political parties and the even weaker leadership that now presides over the two organizations, then called hopefully for the organization of a new, moderate conservative political party.
As I also said last week, however, the prospects for a third party are not good. One reason is that Democrats and Republicans have become so antagonistic to each other these days that political differences can ruin a friendship or cause a split in families. We just plain don’t like each other and the extremes of both parties are, or already have, taken over.
I’ve read polls in which politically involved people say they would never enter into a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite party, or even want to be good friends with them. Democrats were less tolerant than Republicans when it came to such feelings. Democrats try to portray Republicans as the haters, but we should recall how anyone wearing a Trump hat or T-shirt was treated during the 2020 campaign, often refused service in stores or restaurants and harassed until fights broke out. I’d never be caught dead in a Trump hat myself, but by gosh, people have the right to express their opinions.
But conservatives are also posting some pretty mean and sarcastic memes about Democrats on social media these days. So, as people who consider themselves moderates seem to be ever declining in number, the outlook for Americans coming together for the good of their country seems ever more remote.
None of this behavior is new, of course. It was prominently manifested during the days of the French Revolution, in the late 1700s. And we know how that ended up, with thousands of innocent people losing their heads on the guillotine and then with the country being taken over by a military dictator, old Napoleon Bonaparte himself.
I just finished reading an excellent biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, who came to the United States during our own revolution, excelled on the battlefield under George Washington, winning the esteem and respect of that great man, before returning to France and trying to lead that revolution into the path of democracy and peace, only to end up being reviled by both the right and left and spending five years in a dungeon.
The point I want to emphasize here, as explained by the biographer Mike Duncan, is how opposing sides in politics can become so alienated in their thinking and behavior.. Duncan explains that when elected members of the French National Assembly, the equivalent of our Constitutional Convention, met, they physically separated themselves from each other. Conservatives gathered on the right side of the building and the liberals and radicals on the left, creating the left-right divide in politics which is still referred to today.
The separation, Duncan points out, was not limited to the meeting hall. You might have expected the delegates from different regions or cities, Normandy, Lyons, Bordeaux, Brittany, Orleans or whatever, to lodge and perhaps dine together once they got to Paris. But, mais non. “Like-minded men and women found each other at salons, dinners, parties and performances, where they spent long evenings forging personal bonds and political alliances,” Duncan writes. Each side had its own social milieu.
And of course they had their own newspapers and journals — their 18th century versions of Cox and MSNBC — so that the delegates would be able to read only what reflected their already informed opinions. “The Revolution was polarizing,” Duncan maintains.
So, all of this would seem quite familiar to us if we had a time machine and went back to France in the early 1790s. How do we humans get ourselves in such pickles? We can only hope that we find some kind of solution to our political chasm or we might end up with violence and chaos not too unlike the French Revolution.
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