As Americans exercise their rights in an increasingly strained democratic process, I celebrated this festival of democracy by reading Team of Rivals and watching Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. Steeped in the hot political issues of today, traveling back to those times was a surreal experience. For one, it is remarkable how similar the political landscape now is to then – two major parties, extremists agitating on both sides, political fortunes tracking the economy closely. It is also quite amazing that at that point in time, 150 years ago, American democracy was about as old as Indian democracy is today. The world is fortunate to have had such a long lasting experiment of this fragile political system.
But of course the division of society across fairly well defined lines also stood out – the stubborn, violent insistence of racist whites to exercise their right to own and abuse other humans, and (in light of this violence) the admirable moral courage of liberal whites to strive for decades to end slavery. In fact, this fairly modern seeming facet is where I believe American society has moved forward significantly. That American society continues to be divided along political lines is true then as of now, but I cannot help but think that this division is no longer along such a crystal clear line as before. Slavery, the suffragette movement, Civil Rights, LGBT rights – the steady march of time in this democratic experiment has taken care of the clearest lines, leaving later generations to have to choose divisions that are less striking in their moral substance.
Bob Gibbons uses the Big C – little c notation to distinguish between Culture as the Hegelian object that affects all people with a shared history, and culture as the beliefs and values that individuals adopt/follow. That American society’s divisions are along much fuzzier lines is Big P Progress.