No one questions the fact that America is now a nation divided. The 2004 elections served only to highlight a polarization that has been long in the making.
What surprised many was the primary cause of this division. It was not wars, Medicare benefits or matters of self-interest that galvanized the country. Morals are now setting America afire. There is no denying the overwhelming evidence of moral decadence. One cannot ignore the blatant immorality, the abortion culture or the dissenters inside the Church.
However, there is also an America that reacts vehemently against abortion, same-sex “marriage” and so many other modern evils. There are heroic families that challenge the secular culture and try to live traditional Catholic lives.
Hence living in these two Americas is a roller-coaster experience where one can face the two extremes in a single day or even in a single hour.
An Unbridgeable Gap
Perhaps the most problematic aspect of the great divide is that it has reached a point where it is becoming unbridgeable. On one hand, the terrible reality of the breakdown of the family and marriage is pushing Americans to look for religious and moral solutions. On the other hand, the opposing side feels compelled to take ever more radical secular stands to satisfy their extremists’ demands.
The bitterness of the division is only intensified by writers who characterize all those who cherish moral values as ignorant and backwards. One such writer is the liberal billionaire John Sperling who wrote a pre-election book titled, The Great Divide: Retro v. Metro America. He disparagingly labels as “retro” all those in “Old America” who are pro-life, pro-school prayer and anti-pornography. “Retros” are opposed to feminism and homosexual “marriage.” They defend God, family and flag. “Metro” Americans represents “New America,” with its New Economy, modernity, diversity and secularism. They favor feminism and homosexual “rights.” The author glowingly describes them as educated, diverse, democratic and tolerant. Such simplistic characterizations echoed by the liberal media have helped created a climate of hostility, degenerating into what some have called an Uncivil War.
A Moral Reaction
Indeed, the present confrontational climate seems to run contrary to America’s political history that maintained a policy of consensus and civility. However, such a departure from the past is resulting largely from a rapidly changing moral landscape that has increasingly been jolted by shocking moves toward the cultural left over the last few decades.
Following in the footsteps of the brutal Roe v. Wade decision, America is now seeing more frequent examples of judicial activism overturning centuries of Christian morality. Executive decisions like the same-sex “marriages” in San Francisco are displaying a blatant disregard for the rule of law. Terrible exhibits of blasphemous art have pushed backed the standards of decency and morality that still remain in society.
Thus, one major reason why there is polarization is the brutality of these cultural attacks on moral values has caused a significant conservative reaction.
Historically, such reactions have often failed when the dominating culture isolates, divides and silences the reacting proponents. After the initial shock, people are encouraged to accept social changes gradually. However, in America, reactions to the Cultural Revolution of the sixties did not fade away, but rather coalesced into a strong conservative values movement that has changed the nation’s course.
Breaking a Liberal Consensus
Beginning in the early eighties, a significant portion of the American public unexpectedly started to create obstacles to the changes brought forth from the Cultural Revolution. Some refused to accept these changes simply because they did not want to accept them so quickly. Others were mugged by the terrible reality that caused tragedies in their lives and families. Still others saw God’s Law transgressed and felt the need to cry out and organize.
Whatever the reason, the result is that groups and movements throughout the country have organized around key sensitive issues like abortion, education, school prayer, same-sex “marriage” and property rights. Thus, for example, instead of a tiny group of die-hard anti-abortion activists, a huge flourishing pro-life movement grew and counts a whole generation of young people within its ranks.
Concerned parents, distraught over their children’s education, took matters into their own hands and today are part of a thriving homeschooling movement.
While these reactions are not dominant, they do represent a significant portion of the population and cannot be ignored. They break the unanimity of the liberal consensus and thus exert an enormous influence over American public opinion.
“Imagine” in Reverse
For those who experienced the inebriating atmosphere of the sexual revolution of the sixties, a return to any kind of morals was unthinkable. The triumph of feminism and sexual liberation seemed unstoppable in the heady days of the hippy revolt that sought a world according to John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”
Today, un-imaginable things are happening:
• Who could imagine, for example, that in 2004, a movie realistically portraying the Passion of Christ would break box-office records?
• Contrary to the free-love message of the flower children, there is a significant movement that commits high-school students to practicing abstinence, chastity and making pledges of premarital virginity.
• No one ever thought that religion would be such a major issue in the 2004 election that over 20 American Catholic bishops would speak out against pro-abortion politicians and threaten to deny them Communion.
• After decades of pro-evolution indoctrination, almost three times more Americans believe in the infinitely more credible Virgin Birth of Our Lord (83%) than in the ever-evolving theory of evolution (28%).
• During the high noon of secular culture, American Catholics have set up 7444 adoration chapels, 715 of them perpetual, to adore Our Sacramental Lord.
Only in a polarized America are such things imaginable.
Another reason for the nation’s polarization is the crisis in the left. Even before the Election Day meltdown, many observers were already reporting how the liberal ideas that fueled so many changes in society during the sixties were losing their dynamism and power of attraction.
That is not to say the liberal ideas are no longer dominant or effective. They are still deeply entrenched in media, academia and the arts establishment. However, liberals have been telling their troops for some time now that they are losing. Their activists are reacting by demanding ever more radical stands. Their message no longer resonates with America.
This is reflected in the titles of many of their books that carry the implicit message that the liberals have somehow “lost” America. Howard Dean’s book, Winning Back America challenges liberals to retake that which was lost. Others are much more forthright in their confession. Take, for example, What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank or Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War by William Saletan. The core argument given in these and other books is the so-called religious right has more powerful moral rhetoric, better organization and dogged foresight than their liberal counterparts.
Reshaping the Debate
Thomas Frank’s bestselling book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, is a typical example of how liberals have seen their message rejected. He seethes with fury and sarcasm at the “decay” of Kansas from a moderate state to one of the most conservative states in America.
Without even entering into the merits of moral issues, he laments that Kansans have reshaped the debate and taken the high moral ground by highlighting abortion, homosexuality or “immoral decadence in society.” Liberals are left with economic self-interest issues like heath care, minimum wage and jobs.
The central thesis of William Saletan’s Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War is that pro-life activists have forced the abortionists to abandon the rhetoric of sexual liberation, feminism or women’s rights. He claims abortionists were put on the defensive and forced to repackage abortion “rights” as a conservative idea, thus disillusioning their activist grassroots and endangering the whole movement. “Many people think that the political struggle over abortion has been resolved and that feminists have won,” he writes. “They are mistaken. The people who hold the balance of power in the abortion debate are those who favor tradition, family and property.”
Such admissions on the part of liberal authors do much to dispel the myth that liberals make up an unstoppable monolithic movement with plenty of money, complete unity and overwhelming influence.
Many have tried to explain the present polarization in partisan or simplified terms. Liberal media would like to reduce it to a new Scopes trial pitting “red-necked” fundamentalists against “enlightened” secularists. However, the current divide is not between Democrats and Republicans, “metros” and “retros,” liberals and conservatives or progressives and traditionalists. These are superficial labels that fail to address the real issues.
The intensity and depth of the debate suggests a much more profound shift in the mentalities of some Americans. A new type of American is appearing who defies labels and hackneyed stereotypes. This American is tired of artificiality and wants quality and authenticity. In a secular wasteland, this American yearns for the sacred, the symbolic and the sublime. It is a kind of American who sees and admires things more important than self. He upholds superior values and defends a higher law.
The internal conflict between this new American and the dominant culture is a major cause of the great polarizing debate in America. This is seen in the wailing of liberal authors who cannot understand why Middle Americans vote against what seems to be their own economic interest. They are mystified by an American that puts morals and honor above all else.
Politics aside, it can be seen in the Pat Tillmans, whose patriotic self-sacrificing death shattered the liberal dogma that enjoyment of life is a supreme value.
It can be heard in the deep rumblings, which especially after September 11, 2001, have made many Americans sit down and ponder the very meaning of life.
All these signs show that some Americans are questioning the false premises dictating the sole purpose in life is the unrestrained quest for living egoistically, anarchic liberty and the pursuit of an exclusively material happiness.
A Possible Reaction
The polarization of America signifies the exhaustion of the ideas that have turned the country upside down since the sixties. It represents a rejection of the self-centered and “enlightened” liberalism that sanctions the dark and destructive practices of killing unborn children, euthanasia and the harvesting of human embryos.
While the battle for moral values is far from over, the failure of liberal ideas to win the heart of America proves that the liberal threat is not a Goliath impossible to oppose and defeat. This should encourage all pro-family Americans to continue the struggle and weather the storms ahead. With strong uncompromising souls, they can participate in the great internal debate and help shape the nation’s future.
The Fatima Connection
Naturally, when men start thinking in terms beyond self, this logically leads to God and the practice of religion. Indeed, many commentators have spoken of the “God Gap” when characterizing the polarizing divide.
Thus, when such Americans start taking their positions to their final conclusions, they will find not only God but also the Catholic position waiting for them. The Church’s social doctrine defines very well the moral issues being discussed now.
They will find the very issues and warnings raised by Our Lady at Fatima. Her maternal solutions invited men to think beyond self and offer prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. She asked for a serious amendment of life so contrary to the spirit of the present times.
They will find God’s grace that will strengthen their actions and determination, and by that grace they may join the ranks of saints and heroes, who throughout the history of the Church, knew how to weather storms and overcome adversity toward victory.