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Why is America so divided?

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I stumbled over an article today (included at the end of my entry) and it prompted me to finally ask some questions… I’m definitely not trying to start a debate on this particular issue because I think we’ve already been down that road (the Ten Commandments, for example). I thought you might want to read this article and store it away somewhere though.

What I am really interested in discussing is the big picture issue of why is America so divided between the two parties and what are the causes?

Personally, I tend to gravitate more toward moderate to liberal political views. I am against abortion, an environmentalist, I am for gay marriage, I am a Catholic Christian who goes to church every week. That said, I would like your opinion on the whole (excuse the term) “right wing” way of thinking. If you support or understand the right wing way of thinking, I thought you might be able to weigh in and educate me and others.

I’ve been pondering this way of thinking ever since the last election and it bugs me. Some have mentioned that I might only need a slight shift in my views to understand “the right” or I might have to get my mind “reframed” to understand it all from their point of view. I personally subscribe to one view in my mind and that is the intentions of our founders that escaped persecution overseas and came to this land to form the perfect country.

The issue of the differences between the right and the left are very big picture issues but there is one in particular that I think forms the basis of all beliefs and that’s the separation of church and state. I believe this issue is the very basis of our ideologies and the issue that we build many other views upon… we all need to address this issue so we can further understand where each side is coming from, why we think this way, and most importantly… is it what our Founders intended.

My beliefs and the Founders’ beliefs:

My belief is very simple… that it’s our right to think, act, worship, and live our lives however we want as Americans. That’s what makes this country so great. We can be as moral or as immoral as we want just as long as we don’t break any laws provided by the United States of America. God will judge us in the end and that is his job in this whole argument.

The beliefs of the right:

The difference in the way of thinking though comes from “the right” where people believe that it’s their duty to somehow protect the entire country from what they believe is immoral based on their individual views, religion and ideology. They believe it is their right as Americans to stand up for what they believe in and try to mold the country into a society that conforms to what they believe is moral and just.

I believe there is a very fine line between these two ways of thinking and people often are confused or uneducated about which way is correct.

My belief is that the progressives protect OUR freedoms, the conservatives protect their beliefs. It’s that simple.

For example, I believe gay men and women should be able to have a legal union or marriage if the church allows it. Marriage has only been associated with love very recently in our history and even more recently with the church. Originally, it was a simple transaction between the bride’s father and the husband. It had nothing to do with the union of only a man and a woman. This way of thinking comes from recent Christian and other religious ideology.

My point in giving this example is that I believe it is more important to stand up for the rights of the individual making the choice, not for my own beliefs. I believe that protecting the ideas this country was founded upon is more important than my own beliefs. For example, I would probably be pretty disappointed if one of my boys came to me and said that he was gay and getting married. But that doesn’t make me want to support a law that says that they can’t get married or that my neighbor can’t. They are free adults and there is nothing that should limit their desire to commit to each other with a legal union. Of course, the people have spoken on that issue. Anyway…

It all comes down to the debate over whether it’s more important to stand up for YOUR opinion or it’s more important to fight for everyones right to have an opinion.

This is the basic way of thinking that I think we all need to understand. I need to know why some feel so strongly about protecting the rights this country has been built on and others feel so strongly that it’s their duty to tell others what they think is right. I hope you can see the difference.

I think this is where the line is drawn down the middle of our country and why so many people disagree on so many issues. I hope someone can help me understand the other side, but if you are already on the other side, maybe I’ve helped you reframe your own way of thinking in the process of trying to confirm my own.


“Moses Didn’t Write The Constitution” by Thom Hartmann


Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show [www.thomhartmann.com]. His most recent books are The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, Unequal Protection, We The People, The Edison Gene, and What Would Jefferson Do?, in which parts of this article first appeared.

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About Yensid

  • Patriot

    Your belief is too simple.

    You say, “we can be as moral or as immoral as we want just as long as we don’t break any laws provided by the United States of America.”

    Now that is a bit confusing.

    Our laws dictate what is moral and immoral.

    We have laws against the immorality of murder, stealing, bearing false witness (at least under oath), obsenity (in many instances), and numerous other “immoral” acts.

    So what it comes down to is what the Congress and Courts agree is immoral. And that tells us what breaks the laws provided by the United States of America.

    And it is the “morality” passed by the Congress and the Courts that divides the country.

  • Maybe that wasn’t the best use of terms. My point is that people can do whatever they want in America just as long as they are not breaking any laws. For example, some people might believe that certain sex acts, drinking, dancing, cussing, women wearing pants, etc. are all very immoral things based on their personal beliefs. The bible is full of supposed sins that are not against the law in this country and shouldn’t be because they are based on the thnking of one way of thought and one religion.

  • ummm…gotta disagree with ya “Patriot”

    the Rule of Law determines what is Legal…NOT what is “moral”

    big difference there, head on over to dictionary.com and look it up

    THAT little distinction is a big part of where the divide comes from

    Full Disclosure: i am a military veteran and a political Independant, there are very few i ever decide to vote FOR, but there are ALWAYS those i will vote against

    that being said, i tend to Agree with the original Poster on quite a bit, yet differ in where i am coming from

    i served my Nation and it’s Constitution willingly, and would, to this day, give my All to defend it

    you know the old saying “i don’t agree with you, but i will defend to the Death your Right to say it”

    that about sums it up for me, and i will always vote against those that don’t hold up to that Standard

    nuff said?


  • Mel

    “I need to know why some feel so strongly about protecting the rights this country has been built on and others feel so strongly that it’s their duty to tell others what they think is right.”

    As a libertarian, atheistic Bush supporter, I think you need to remember that many on the right, Christian and otherwise, feel that beginning with FDR’s New Deal the left has been imposing its values on the behavior of all of us. The social welfare agenda of the left commands that all citizens will behave as though they endorse the moral precepts of the left, whether they like it or not. What is my moral obligation to my fellow man? The left has taken from me the right to determine that for myself. To my mind, it is the left that exercises tyranny over individuals, and the right, much as it may push marriage laws and prayer, doesn’t even come close to the left in regard to imposing upon individual rights of property and self-determination.

  • Patriot

    Gonzo — The Rule of Law does indeed determine what is “moral” in this country. If that is not the case — how do you determine what is “moral“?

    The “law of the jungle”, i.e., “survival of the fittest” has a different moral standard. Without laws to guide us, this would be our moral standard.

  • I vowed never to comment on any issue of divisiveness now that my country has become so divided and so harsh and unforgiving in its beliefs.
    I am a radical as William F. Buckley or William Safire and that is to say radical like Tom Paine. America once stood for discussion, tolerance, freedom and liberty. There was something of a separation of church and state.
    Since 9/11 (and even before) the forces of authoritarianism seem to have come to the forefront of America. It is sad to have lost something we never quite had and used to want.
    Yensid and Gonzo Marx only disagree a trifle. The operant idea is that we once were so divided that we killed each other. Does anyone remember that nonsense? And a Republican reminded us that A house divided cannot stand.
    I hate to think of my country falling just as other banana republics have. Or, worse, keeping itself together by making the trains run on time.

  • >>The issue of the differences between the right and the left are very big picture issues but there is one in particular that I think forms the basis of all beliefs and that’s the separation of church and state.<< Absolutely dead wrong on this one, Yensid. On the most fundamental level most conservatives and most liberals believe in the separation of church and state. They may draw the line in slightly different places, but both support the separation. Conservatives think that the separation is there to protect the Church and the religious from the state. Liberals think it is there to protect the people and the state from the Church, but both think it's a good idea in general. Where they argue is over the details, like whether it's really a violation of the separation to have a nativity scene at a city hall. Extremists on the left say it's unacceptable. Extremists on the other say they're destroying tradition. Both are right and both are wrong. The truth is that the rational majority doesn't actually give a rat's ass if it's there. The actual defining issue which divides liberals and conservatives is the issue of whether it is right for government to take money or property or opportunity from one individual in order to give it to another. Liberals believe that the reason we have government is to provide for the needs of the citizens and help give everyone an equal chance in society. Conservatives believe that we have government to protect the rights of individuals, especially their property rights and their right not to be abused or taken advantage of by others. The key difference is between needs and rights. Liberals believe people are inherently unequal and taht therefore the role of government is to take care of their needs. Conservatives believe individuals should provide for themselves and that government's role is to protect them so they can do so. This is the real dividing point. Dave

  • Patriot,

    no Offense intended here, but i really don’t give a shit about what is “moral”

    “morality” is quite the Subjective term..what is “moral” for one person/tribe/culture is the exact opposite for another

    hence the Rule of Law…a secular and clearly delineated set of procedures and guidelines for human behaviour and interactions…in the case of America, it is derived from the Citizens via the mechanism of representative democracy based on the guidelines of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

    now , correct me if i am wrong here, but i don’t recall the word “moral” EVER being used in those documents..they determine what is legal, one cannot legislate “morality” merely define legality

    as for alpha’s Observation , let me try and say it this way..

    Yensid sez..
    *It all comes down to the debate over whether it’s more important to stand up for YOUR opinion or it’s more important to fight for everyones right to have an opinion.*

    and your humble Narrator says he will always do BOTH…i will stand up and fight for my own Opinion, and the Right to shout it as i choose…but i will ALSO fight to the death to defend another’s Right to voice their own Opinion…just because i disagree with it does NOT lessen that person’s Right to have and express it

    compare that to news cast shout shows, or Limbaugh,Hannity,Savage etc…where if yoru Opinion does not fit theirs, you get cut off, derided, insulted, belittled and devalued in any way possible in order to make the Opinion or View seem less than important

    part of the GOP’s success and part of the Dem’s problems in the last few years has been the GOP’s willingness to engage in these type of tactics, and the Dem’s general abhorrence of the same

    this is NOT to say that all repubocrats do it, nor that all demlicans are Innocent, by any means…the veracity is there for any Objective individual to observe

    when did it happen?..simplicity itself, gentle Readers…anyone remember when the old “equal time” in broadcasting Rule was dropped by the FCC?

    another legacy from the greed of the ’80s

    but you knew that…


  • Dave, good comment. I would agree that is a fundamental part of each sides ideology but I am talking about right now and more importantly in the last election. The religious right is becoming more and more powerful and issues like gay marriage, abortion, and other moral issues made the difference in the last election. Conservatives make themselves out to be more moral than liberals based on these issues and liberals have done a terrible job making their case on morality. If it is as simple as you say and everyone truly had a firm understanding of the fundamental differences of each side and where they stood, this would be a much easier political land to navigate.

    I do find that a lot of people are starting to label conservatives as the moral side and liberals as the immoral party. That has been the real dividing point lately. I just don’t see it that way.

  • The reason it is that way is that the majority of people in the middle are willing to accept a little religious morality along with the issues they are really concerned about, rather than giving up their core issues – things like feeding their families and making more money – in order to feel better about the moral issues on the non-religious side of the spectrum. Most people are motivated by self-interest, and the issues the religious right pushes don’t interfere with the self-interest of the people in the middle as much as the fringe positions promoted on the left, because the pet issues of the right tend to be directed at small groups who aren’t part of that middle population, while the pet issues of the left impact society as a whole and could impede the basic interests of folks in the middle.


  • Very interesting thoughts Dave. Thanks. For all your reading pleasure, here is a little take on history and morality. Good read.


  • The difference in the way of thinking though comes from “the right” where people believe that it’s their duty to somehow protect the entire country from what they believe is immoral based on their individual views, religion and ideology.

    This is different only in detail from views on “the left” (to preserve your antique distinction), where people believe it’s their duty to somehow protect the entire country from what they believe is immoral.

    Left: I believe it’s immoral for people to own guns so they can shoot Bambi in the woods or the (innocent-until-proven-guilty) guy who breaks into their house.
    Right: I believe it’s immoral for people of the same sex to get married to each other.

    Left: I believe it is moral for people to smoke pot (but immoral for them to smoke tobacco).
    Right: I believe it is moral to honor one of the sources for the Rule of Law (the Ten Commandments) in a courthouse.

    See what I mean? And the division is not polar, not right-left, anymore. We have a nation of (on one hand) rational quotidians who concentrate on their day-to-day needs and desires, and (on the other hand) a whole host of contentious partisans, each espousing their own mix of morality to be imposed by regulation or law on everyone else.

    To quote a favorite fictional character, John Galt, “Get out of my way!”

  • Actually, regarding comment 12, I myself and all those on the left that I know of personally, support the right to bear arms, but of those on the left who are against it, I don’t think it’s because of ‘immorality’. It’s because they think a lot of people are stupid fucks who can’t be trusted. Big difference.

    And the left does not equate morality with pot smoking, or tobacco smoking. These are health and economic issues to the left, not moral issues.

  • Bambi

    quick confirmation: US Law doesn’t have much correlation to morality. You probably already have some other source of what is “moral” or not; the Law is there to tell you what’s legal.

    For my 2c, I’m not intending to hijack the thread, but I wanted to make a clarification on the comment by DrPat:

    Left: I believe it is moral for people to smoke pot (but immoral for them to smoke tobacco).

    For my part, I think a citizen of the U.S. should be able to smoke pot or tobacco, and in both cases I wouldn’t want them to smoke in public. So I don’t see any hypocracy.

  • I’m liberal and I support peoples right to own guns. I just don’t see any reason why a private citizen should be allowed to own an uzi. Where do you draw the line? People surely can’t drive loaded tanks down the road!

    RE: Ganja… people should be able to control their own destiny and if they want to drink, smoke, smoke pot, drink glue or gasoline or any other kind of drug then that is their decision and not my problem. The people on the right are the ones that believe people should be allowed to run their own lives separate from the government, why do they feel the government should control what people inhale? Hell, I say sell it and tax it baby! It’ll pay for our expedition in Iraq that those on the right love so much!

  • PseudoErsatz

    “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” – Benjamin Franklin

    The main problem is, that between the time the constitution was written and now, our nation has become one where a great many citizens no longer believe in the concept of “Natural Law”, that is laws which govern the entire universe and are applicable to every human–past, present, and future. Our founding fathers–regardless whether they were deists or Christian were all aware of the potential for man to do evil, and formed the government intentionally to prevent individual evil from occurring. What this meant in day-to-day life primarily is that they did not individually look to themselves as having the ultimate answers to life, but they each governed their lives believing that there was something more than humanity, something or someone outside of humanity to which they might be accountable.

    By the early to mid quarter of the 20th century, citizens had fallen for the deception of relativism–each person is their own god. One symptom of this belief is the notion that one person’s vice is another’s virtue. Another symptom is the idea that if individuals operate as their own ‘god’, they should be above reproach and criticism. The reach and scope of relativism is very deep in society. Even those who still assent to Natural Law in some part have ‘secret areas’ of “their own control” where they will go to great lengths to justify self-serving behavior or opinions, while publicly voicing an opposing position on the same subject. Concurrent with this, and also because of relativism, ‘feelings’ have become the guiding principle for many. “If it feels good, do it!” is the North Star that many point their lives towards. Delayed gratification, sacrifice, patience, and service to others have been replaced by instant gratification, hedonism (pleasure seeking), and self-aggrandizement. These same individuals will look to the government to enact legislation that helps out their fellow man in greater ways, and whether admitting it or not, looks to these programs to make him or her feel better–support for a government that is providing health care or drug rehab is safer and more convenient than actually getting involved personally with the population that needs health care or drug rehab.

    Yet Natural Law is still there–despite attempts by some to claim that it is not. It is still a powerful force, because it is part of the created human nature. Society can go on enacting lowest-common-denominator laws, can decriminalize some of the most abhorrent acts, and can remove the stigma and guilt from behaviors and lifestyle choices to the extent that what was once considered illegal or undesirable is now ignored or possibly even held up as heroic, and what was once considered good is now suspect. Regardless, Natural Law still can have a hard time with this reversal, and if pushed, will stiffen and rise to defend itself.

    It is this defense of Natural Law that is responsible for the rift in American Society. Society’s leaning to the left with regard to many issues–personal and legal–is ultimately uncomfortable for too many. As society goes further ‘left’, Natural Law becomes more and more comfortable, as it provides a structure to organize ones thoughts. The popularity of the Conservative talk radio is because of the left-leaning society. Daily living in a society hell-bent on avoiding natural law provides all the fodder that comprises the arguments of the right. Note that left-wing radio programs will more than likely fail to support themselves, as they are simply repeating what is already going on in society; they aren’t saying anything new.

    Attempts to convince society in large that what is actually occurring is a growth of conservatism is a hard sell; corruption abounds; vicious behavior is normal. (One humorous way some go to ‘fix’ this problem of reality not coinciding with the theory is by attributing all acts of corruption and viciousness to conservatives) Internet porn is a several-billion a year business; each person reading these words probably has several persons classified as ‘sexual predators’ within minutes of your home. Universally, church membership is becoming a smaller percentage of the population (oh yes, but everyone is “spiritual”). These are but a few examples of how “conservatism” is growing.

  • InOurselvesWeTrust

    The premise for the 40,000 foot view of the difference between Conservative and Liberal thought sounds good – but is not honest. Do you consider only the rhetoric, your personal view, or the effectiveness of your government? Our style and skill at government would be like Rome insisting that pig offerings must also be accepted by the Jews in the Temple – and both parties do this! What’s worse is that we are doing it on the scale of Rome. You cannot force everyone to think as you because you legislated it. It is terrible that this must be said. But we consider ourselves to be so wise we would rather destroy our nation rather than be sensible. We must find a way to govern everyone – not just those that fancy themselves right – even if you get a fuzzy feeling after talking a Christian’s daughter into an healthy abortion without involving those who really love her. Or when you deny a contemptible gay couple any form of officiated union because God told you this was the best way to show them love. The insults are numerous. I will not list them. But perhaps offense is the metric by which you measure the effectiveness of your party.
    Here we are. These are the weighty issues and rhetoric they use to divide the nation in the pursuit of power and wealth. The Conservatives through private ownership, the Liberals through nationalization, both through corruption. You are Rome and you have the “right” to destroy all sense of civility, common decency, respect, and your very nation because you are “right”. But don’t pretend you do not understand.
    And for the record, both liberals and conservatives attempt to legislate “morality”. They simply derive it from different ideals. “Heartless” was the war cry that shut up the opponents of health care reform (yes, there was no open discussion here). At least the rising cost of health care has been resolved 🙂