Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. These four men have been memorialized, lionized, mountainized in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
At Mount Rushmore, these presidents’ faces stand 60 feet tall, carved into granite, and they loom just as large in the minds of Americans. George Washington is known as The Father of His Nation. Thomas Jefferson is the Apostle of Democracy and Man of the People. Abraham Lincoln is Honest Abe and the Great Emancipator. Theodore Roosevelt is the Hero of San Juan Hill and simply The Lion.
The actions of these men are the stuff of legend: Washington crossed the Delaware River and set the example for presidents after him by leaving office after two terms. Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence are burned into the national psyche, “We hold these truths to be self evident…” and he secured the Louisiana Purchase from France. Lincoln led the country through its darkest hour, the Civil War, and ended slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment. Roosevelt did more to preserve the nation’s natural wonders than any other president and oversaw the construction of the Panama Canal. The list could go on.
Yet what tends to be glossed over in all of this is the fact that these presidents were also politicians. This means they disagreed with other legislators on what was best for the United States—and how to make the nation better.
Clashes even occurred among the Founding Fathers. The Wall Street Journal reported: “In the American imagination, the founding era shimmers as the golden age of political discourse, a time when philosopher-kings strode the public stage, dispensing wisdom with gentle civility. We prefer to believe that these courtly figures, with their powdered hair and buckled shoes, showed impeccable manners in their political dealings.”
In reality, the article stated, it was a time of “verbal savagery.”
The bitter relationship between Washington and Jefferson is a prime example. Jefferson frequently attacked President Washington in conversations and letters and characterized him “as a monarchist bent on destroying the rule of the people” (Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association).
He refused to attend Washington’s memorial service and felt that “the ‘republican spirit’ in the nation might revive now that Washington was dead and the Federalists [the opposition party] could no longer hide behind his heroic image” (ibid.).
Similarly, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams did not agree with Jefferson’s political ideas. Jefferson wrote that Adams hated Benjamin Franklin. In addition, Franklin loathed Adams’ bullying style of diplomacy.
For Americans, it is hard to think of the Founding Fathers in such a light. We want to think that there was a time when politics were conducted civilly—where the nation moved forward in locked step.
Yet it was not the case then, and it is not now. In fact, political vitriol is more rampant than ever before—and worsening. A Santa Fe Institute study published in research journal PLOS One found that “partisanship or non-cooperation in the U.S. Congress has been increasing exponentially for over 60 years with no sign of abating or reversing.”
Congressional session: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani receives a standing ovation as he addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (March 25, 2015).Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Each side is vehement that their way of improving America is right.
But it does not stop with politicians. The Internet allows everyone to voice their opinions and pick political fights. Contrast this with fledgling America: the only way to widely spread a message would have been through newspapers—and few had such access.
No one wants to see the United States so disunited. Rather, most want the idealized version of the nation: where everyone moves forward together to tackle economic problems, discrimination, national security, and so on.
Americans should especially yearn for this during national holidays such as the Fourth of July. Independence Day should be a time when families and friends come together to discuss the many blessings afforded them—and openly talk about what the future will bring. Yet fear of ideological catfights all too often causes us to bite our tongues and quietly consume our hamburgers.
Today, everyone has an opinion, from politician to pundit to private citizen. Each is certain he is right. While everyone wants to make America better, how can this occur among the deafening roar of competing ideas?
Another way to word this question can be found in the biblical book of Amos: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (3:3).
America today is a living answer to this rhetorical question. There is precious little agreement, and it makes walking together increasingly impossible.
This even happens within a political party, as evidenced by the ramping up of the 2016 presidential campaign. During this election cycle, it appears the fiercest fighting will happen on the Republican side. There are more potential candidates than ever before—all backed by millions of dollars.
A mid-April Republican gathering in New Hampshire was especially telling. A National Public Radio report of the event showed everyone carving out their niche and advocating their vision for the nation. There was one vying to be “most conservative,” another “trying to broaden the base of the party” and advocating standing “up for every amendment in the Bill of Rights,” and still another working to assure voters that he has a conservative record and is not a RINO (Republican in name only). Still another, the son of immigrants, feels the American Dream can only be preserved “if the country steers towards more conservative principles of government.”
Yes, these all are Republicans. Yet all have different views for what the country needs. To put it bluntly, each thinks the answer is himself.
While the Democratic field is sparser, the same principle applies. Each politician has a different set of views—and each absolutely believes he or she is right.
For average citizens, political opinions are becoming increasingly myopic. Most tend to watch news networks, listen to radio programs, and read news only from sources that cater to their political leanings. The longer people marinate in their own ideas, the less likely they are to consider opposing views.
This is even true on social media sites such as Facebook.
“With the presidential race heating up,” The New York Times reported, “a torrent of politically charged commentary has flooded Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site, with some users deploying their ‘unfollow’ buttons like a television remote to silence distasteful political views. Coupled with the algorithm now powering Facebook’s news feed, the unfollowing is creating a more homogenized political experience of like-minded users, resulting in the kind of polarization more often associated with MSNBC or Fox News. And it may ultimately deflate a central promise of the Internet: Instead of offering people a diverse marketplace of challenging ideas, the web is becoming just another self-perpetuating echo chamber.”
The comment sections of Internet news sites overflow with the results of this “self-perpetuating echo chamber”: endless, pointless bickering, with neither side giving an inch.
Such political clashes derive from the start of the nation. Many of the Founding Fathers ascribed to the Enlightenment movement. The Encyclopaedia Britannica stated: “Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and celebration of reason, the power by which humans understand the universe and improve their own condition. The goals of rational humanity were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness.”
The Age of Enlightenment espoused a deep optimism toward human reason.
Herein lies the problem.
Many will say that the U.S. was founded squarely on Judeo-Christian values. While some of our laws are adapted from the Bible, much of our foundation is human reasoning stemming from Enlightenment thinking.
The problem with man’s reasoning is that it is a mixed bag. It is why there are so many differing opinions in the U.S. today—and so much disagreement.
If Americans actually looked at what the Bible says, they would see the problem with relying on manmade ideas. For example, Proverbs 14:12 states, “There is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”
When you allow everyone to decide what they think is right to them, you end up with a wide variety of conflicting answers—and some of them can even seem logical.
Proverbs 16:2 adds to this concept: “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes…” To each individual, his way of life makes sense.
Man cannot direct his own steps. He cannot simply peer within himself to understand his place in the universe or how to rule himself.
Be honest! Such a system does not work. Human reasoning has been behind every form of government man has concocted. None have succeeded in the long run.
In fact, proving human reasoning does not work is a major theme of the Bible. This starts from the beginning in the Garden of Eden when the first humans ate from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17). Eating the fruit from this symbolic tree meant that human beings would decide for themselves what was right and wrong instead of relying on God’s direction.
Again, the tragic results of this are obvious throughout the record of history.
In order for Americans to walk together in agreement—to truly make the nation better—we must first admit that man cannot govern himself. Each citizen must consider that his ideas could be wrong—and that they almost certainly are wrong.
The Bible contains a cautionary tale of what happens if a nation relies on its own ideas rather than God’s. This point is so important that it takes up much of the Old Testament.
The story is that of the ancient Israelites. They were given great blessings by God. They had access to His Word, which shows His mind on subjects. He gave them His laws and statutes so that they could be a model nation.
Over and over, however, the Israelites tried their own ways. Over and over, they refused to stop and consider if they were headed down the wrong path. Over and over, they failed miserably.
This pattern played out so many times that God repeatedly called the nation stiffnecked, which means stubborn, obstinate and impudent.
An early example of this is found in Exodus 32, after the Israelites built a golden calf and rejected the true God. In verses 8-9, God states: “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto…And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people.”
Consider the level of stubbornness here. God had miraculously taken this nation out of slavery—and repeatedly demonstrated His awesome power—and they still chose to rebel.
The lesson behind this? Even a nation with incredible blessings with the God of the Bible backing it up can reject Him and His way.
For Israel, rebellions especially happened when there was no strong leader in the nation. Notice: “And it came to pass, when the judge [that oversaw Israel] was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers…they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way” (Judg. 2:19).
Israel utterly refused to listen to godly reason. Their stubbornness weakened the nation to the point that it was overrun and its people were carted off to captivity.
America today is approaching this same level of stiffnecked thinking in the political arena. Few recognize the seriousness of the situation.
Re-read the quote mentioned earlier from the Santa Fe Institute about partisan politics: “We find that despite short-term fluctuations, partisanship or non-cooperation in the U.S. Congress has been increasing exponentially for over 60 years with no sign of abating or reversing.”
Notice that the researchers did not say linear growth. It is exponential growth.
Exponential growth is difficult for the human mind to grasp because it starts out slowly and then quickly jumps forward. The classic grade school example of this is that if you had a penny and doubled it every day you would have $10.7 million dollars in just 30 days. Realize that on the 15th day, you would still have only $327.67, and on day 25, $335,544.31. Most of the growth would occur in the final days.
While partisanship is not doubling every year, exponential growth is still set to increase by 5 percent every year. In the penny analogy, 5 percent growth every day would make you a millionaire in a little over a year.
The researchers stated what this means for the U.S.: “Americans today are represented by political figures who struggle to cooperate across party lines at an unprecedented rate, resulting in high profile fiscal and policy battles, government shutdowns, and an inability to resolve problems or enact legislation that guides the nation’s domestic and foreign policy.”
In summary, they stated: “Not surprisingly, partisanship correlates with failure to introduce and pass legislation. The number of bills introduced, bills passed, and the percentage of introduced bills that pass fall exponentially over time.”
The level of non-cooperation has reached the point of hyper-partisanship, and this bleeds into how the two parties speak about one another in interviews and campaign speeches. The level of name-calling and belittling is astonishing—and it stems from stiffnecked thinking that “my way is right, and yours is dead wrong.”
A Wall Street Journal article investigated this trend, with its writer voicing fears that there is no “middle” in politics any more. The article stated: “Up until the mid-1980s, the typical American held the view that partisans on the other side operated with good intentions. But that has changed in dramatic fashion, as a study published…by Stanford and Princeton researchers demonstrates.
“It has long been agreed that race is the deepest divide in American society. But that is no longer true, say Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, the academics who led the study. Using a variety of social science methods (for example, having study participants review resumes of people that make both their race and party affiliation clear), they document that ‘the level of partisan animus in the American public exceeds racial hostility.’”
Partisanship exceeding racial hostility. At first, such an assertion can seem impossible. Yet think of how Democrats treat Republicans and vice versa. In public, they berate the other side as “ignorant,” “lunatics” and every other demeaning name under the sun. They are able to do this on national television. If a politician went in front of news cameras and said such things about any race, he or she would quickly be out of a job.
Hyper-partisanship—being politically “stiffnecked”—also affects the general public. The Wall Street Journal article continued: “Americans now discriminate more on the basis of party than on race, gender or any of the other divides we typically think of—and that discrimination extends beyond politics into personal relationships and non-political behaviors. Americans increasingly live in neighborhoods with like-minded partisans, marry fellow partisans and disapprove of their children marrying mates from the other party, and they are more likely to choose partners based on partisanship than physical or personality attributes.”
As stiffnecked thinking grows in the U.S., people have dug in their heels harder. They think they alone hold the way to make America better. They refuse to ever stop and consider that they could be wrong.
Another passage from the Old Testament is instructive. In Hosea 5:3-4, God says that He sees Israel and it is “defiled.” He declares: “They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God…”
The principle here can apply to ancient Israel, but it definitely fits with America today. As a collective nation, we will not stop and take a serious look at ourselves. We will not frame our doings or put them in proper perspective.
Yet this verse has a twofold meaning. It can also mean that a nation’s actions will not allow it to turn back to God. For the U.S., this can be seen in its stiffnecked, hyper-partisanship thinking. Each side, whether liberal or conservative, thinks the other is dead wrong, which makes their viewpoint seem right.
This clouds the issue because both are wrong. Both sides—and any manmade ideology—is subject to Jeremiah 17:9. Man cannot “direct his steps”—he cannot govern himself!
Without drastic action, the U.S. will wallow in the cycle of hyper-partisanship, which will continue to grow exponentially worse. There will be more political gridlock. More verbal battles in Internet comment sections. And simply more disagreement.
Yet all hope is not lost. The Bible does not just explain where mankind has gone off course. It also reveals the right way for individuals to live and how to properly operate a nation.
God’s Word also has a lot to say specifically about the U.S. today. It shows exactly where it is off track and how it can make itself better. The book America and Britain in Prophecy uses clear biblical proof to show what the coming years hold for the U.S.—and its ultimate bright, better future!