Our Rhetorical Civil War

Our Rhetorical Civil War January 21, 2013

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by Zachary Bailes

On March, 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated.  Today, President Obama uses that same Bible to begin his second term. However, during Lincoln’s inaugural speech he stated, We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”

Lincoln uttered these words to a struggling, soon to be divided, United States. We hear these words 152 years later knowing that they are all too familiar. While we may not be on the brink of another physical separation, our collective identity lives in a rhetorical civil war with all-too-real consequences.

During the past 12 years we have faced remarkable difficulties. From 9/11 to economic collapse our bodies, our heads still hang low. On both the Right and Left we have found in each other enemies, not allies. Indeed—we think it much more productive to stand against one another rather than stand with one another. At every turn we have found it easier to deny the other, to deny the ideas and identities that stand against our own rather than see them as opportunities for growth and change.


In the aftermath of another election year we have already seen, and will continue to see, demonization. If you’re a liberal, then you must be wanting to take the money from all the rich, and you are really a socialist. If you’re a conservative, then you’re a greedy, ignorant, and selfish person.

In the morning, however, when we look in the mirror do we label ourselves as “liberal” or “conservatives?” Do those words embody who we are as people?

Is not the parent working two jobs to sustain their children more than a political pawn? Is not the young college graduate seeking employment more than bumper-sticker-politics? Are we not more than a label handed down to us from on high? 

To engage in meaningful political dialogue we need political identifiers. Like tribes, we need to know where people “encamp.” Yet to know where someone “lives” does not mean we know their life. We have allowed our differences to become reasons to hate and disparage the other, all the while pharisaically carrying our moral heads high.

There can be no great dream, no more perfect union, and no transformative country as long as we dupe ourselves into vilifying the “opposition.” 

I’m not sure when our public discourse became cheap and shoddy, or who fired the first shot in this rhetorical Civil War. When Lincoln uttered those words he sounded hope and urging toward the common good. Alas, those words would not be enough, and neither will these. It will take bold and daring action to support and stand up, not for labels, but for our humanity.

I am a Liberal, but that’s not all I am. I am one who respects the identity of humanity, regardless of creed, gender, sexuality, nationality, or race. If we are to form a more perfect union we must be willing to see that the building blocks are present, and they are our citizens—always has been; always will be. 

 
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