In a Newsday article on Sunday, October 24, Yancey Roy cited a poll that said “Americans Share
Values/Divided on Issues.” Many of us who grew up in the 50s, 60s and 70s remember a lot more
cooperation, compromise, and willingness to work together to solve problems and resolve
differences. We saw this among our parents, our teachers and our representatives in local, state and
national government. It was often seen as making deals “behind closed doors” when done on the
governmental level, but it worked. Now, it seems that we have a lot more of the transparency we
asked for, but none of the working together to meet common goals that we hoped would continue.
We find this distressing. To many of us, it just does not make any sense. That’s not the way
the government in this country should work! Unbeknownst to us, it had been that way at a period of time
in the past, and perhaps if we had learned about it in school we would be better prepared to know
what to do about it.
In an article I recently read, about a book entitled “The Age of Acrimony: How Americans Fought to
Fix Their Democracy,” by Jon Grinspan, I learned a lot about the “forgotten drama of fractious and
furious partisanship” of the late 1800s.
As I read about this book, the descriptions really hit me. Weren’t they really talking about today?
“Though the electorate turned out in huge numbers, marchers filled squares and newspapers
attacked rivals, politics railed to bring real change. This system – overheated and yet standing
still – led only to anger and agitation.”
“Everybody, it seemed… had someone to blame for why democracy was failing.”
“American politics had hit on an amazing ability to mobilize citizens but also to agitate them to
“A muckraking reporter remarked that ‘liberty produces wealth, and wealth destroys liberty.’”
Things did change. Voting became a more private event – behind a curtain, cast privately. But, the
newer complicated ballots were difficult for some to deal with, and those whose English was not very
good could no longer count on the color-coded ballots they had used to cast their votes. Voting
became more sedate and not as exciting an event as it had been – thus fewer were drawn to vote. In
the 1896 Presidential election, 80% of the electorate voted. In 1924, the number had fallen to less
than 49%. Many were actually very pleased that the polls were “free of noisy crowds.”
So, are we seeing history repeat itself? Will changes made now change our currently divisive nation
into one in which apathy reigns again or will it lead to more rational campaigning? The “2020
the election was the first since 1900 to boast turnouts above 66 percent.” Are we on the way up or down?
Have we gotten a sense of what the problems are? Is there some way we can avoid the two extremes,
and have an involved electorate without the enmity and divisiveness we now encounter? Stay tuned!!