For this essay, I invoke the muses of the recently deceased Desmond Tutu and of Nelson Mandela, who ushered in a period of reconciliation and healing in South Africa following apartheid. Reconciliation and healing works. Animosity and divisiveness do not.

Proposed: Let’s begin to follow Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s example.

Instead, we continue to fight the American Civil War that should have ended a hundred and fifty-six years ago. The American Civil War is on-going! You may be surprised to read those words since slavery ended gradually after the Emancipation Proclamation, but I will make the case that the underlying cause of the Civil War still exists, and it is more divisive now.

First, let’s talk about the war. People to this day argue about the reasons the Civil War was fought. Clearly, the desire to end slavery played a role in the North, and the desire to maintain the economic advantages of slavery played a role in the South, although, it is worth reluctantly noting, that many internet denizens will be willing to argue those two seeming obvious points.

The scourge of slavery has ended. The North won. The South lost. Why then are we still arguing? Think about it!

The American Revolution and later the American Civil War were both fought over the same issue, the Right of Self-Determination. It would be a mistake to characterize our white, southern ancestry as racist bigots who all hated black people and wanted desperately to keep their knees on African American necks. Conversely, it would be a mistake to argue there weren’t any white southerners and white northerners who would have fit that description. However, white southern patriots did not fight and die because of racial animus, nor did they fight and die to insure the economic viability of rich plantation owners. Neither racial hatred, nor economic viability explain the war. General Lee and many, many southern fighting men must have had another reason, one that, at the time, seemed persuasive and compelling to them, a set of ideals, based on the same ideals that have been motivating men since the 1700’s, the Right to Self-Determination.

The Right of Self-Determination is still the issue that divides us today, although the two sides of the political spectrum see the issue from completely different perspectives. The mis-alignment of perspectives has created divisiveness of an increasingly dangerous nature. Both sides today are fighting for the same ideal but viewing it through two faulty lenses.

There is an argument these days about whether or not the rioting on January 6th. was an insurrection or just a bunch of over-jealous patriots. Depending on which side of the political aisle you occupy, you see a threat to our Right of Self-Determination. Democrats want to defend the sanctity of the election process. The rioting on January 6 was wrong-headed and destructive, but, in the aftermath, it does no good try to bring legal proceedings and even criminal charges against prominent Republicans. Leading Republicans were at first harshly critical of the attack. Now, unfortunately, they have reverted to their more customary battle lines, and additional finger pointing will not solve our problems.

Elections have always been contentious, and there have always been minor irregularities. The last election was no different. The election wasn’t stolen! The Republican version of the best way to preserve the Right of Self-Determination was less persuasive than the Democrat’s version. That’s the end of that story! Or it should be!

But the Republicans now want to “audit” the 2020 election returns, punish “disloyal” Republicans, harass and threaten local election officials, alter election laws to make it more difficult for many Americans to cast ballots, and even, some might claim, to prevent nonpartisan bodies from adjudicating election disputes. None of that is helpful moving forward!

The Democrat’s version of Self-Determination seeks to defend against deepening economic inequalities and to usher in a more inclusive society, but they are clearly not persuasive to many Christian groups, military hawks, and many in of the white working and middle classes, who vote the Republican ticket to “reduce the size of government” and to insure their version of Self-Determination for their children.

The great danger of our giant national divergence is that it will shape the way we regard elections themselves and whether we trust their officially declared outcomes. Trust is a precious and necessary ingredient in a democracy.

You may be one of many who wrongly insist that events of mid-eighteen-hundreds are over and done with and have no effect on us today. That’s a mistake. A big one!