On May 22, 1856, Representative Preston Brooks entered the floor of the United States Senate, approached abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner, and beat the senator with a cane, almost taking his life.
Brooks was provoked by a passionate anti-slavery speech that Sumner had delivered in the Senate three days earlier, in which he assailed Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, a relative of Brooks, for his pro-slavery stance.
This sad and gruesome history is related on the website of the U.S. Senate, which concludes saying, “The nation, suffering from the breakdown of reasoned discourse that this event symbolized, tumbled onward toward the catastrophe of the civil war.”
We ought to be concerned that again, today, the nation appears to be flirting with this uneasy territory where “reasoned discourse” is breaking down.
The president’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, was asked to leave a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, where she was having dinner because, well, she works for Donald Trump.
Stephanie Wilkerson, the owner of the Red Hen restaurant, said she asked Sanders to depart because “there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one.”
But what exactly are the “convictions” that Wilkerson was living in this incident? That you refuse to talk, associate, do business with anyone you disagree with? This is America?
A few days before, Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was harassed in a D.C. restaurant and then at her Northern Virginia home.
Longtime Congressional Black Caucus member Maxine Waters followed, calling for all-out warfare on the Trump administration.
“If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” Waters told a crowd in Los Angeles.
According to the vision statement of Waters’ Congressional Black Caucus Foundation: “We envision a world in which all communities have an equal voice in public policy through leadership cultivation, economic empowerment, and civic engagement.”
Another dose of liberal hypocrisy.
“Reasoned discourse” can take place only between parties who share the same values and a similar worldview.
This is what broke down in America in the 1850s and brought the nation to a horrible civil war. Reasoned discourse is not possible between someone who thinks it is acceptable for one race to be enslaved to another and someone who finds this abhorrent.
President Lincoln reached into the Gospel of Matthew and prophetically observed, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
America in 2018 is becoming again a house divided.
The worldviews of liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, secular humanists and Christians, regarding what America is about, regarding what life is about, are so entirely different that all common ground seems lost and we appear to have arrived again to the “breakdown of reasoned discourse.”
Half the country is on one page and half on another. We can’t seem to talk to each other, let alone respect each other anymore.
Certainly, I am not predicting another civil war. But I am predicting that the kind of civil discourse that is essential for a country like ours to function as intended is becoming increasingly impossible and something will have to give.
Florida’s Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi required a police escort to protect her from screaming thugs while exiting a movie theater in Tampa, Florida.
White House adviser Stephen Miller was called a “fascist” while eating in a Mexican restaurant in Washington.
We may not be in a hot war. But we are in a cold war.
The election of Donald Trump was about pushback.
He himself is regularly criticized for lack of civility. But maybe this is why he won. He understands that today, this is the game.