High School Sophomore
Sparta High School, New Jersey
A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand: The Need for American Nationalism
"United we stand, divided we fall."
Long ago in yesteryear, the Founding Fathers first defined the American spirit—one of unity, freedom, and prosperity that many Americans still embrace. Yet amidst the 2016 presidential election season, their famous remarks appear sinfully construed, distorted. Even in the supposed impartial atmosphere of public high school, a looming animosity shrouds my politically-engaged peers. Nearly every day, I find arguments and strained friendships over why their candidate is superior and yours, inferior. American nationalism has degraded among our youth, among all voters, of course at a time when only a sole American identity can deter emerging foreign opponents. Be I the mischievous student, the words “divided we stand, united we fall” would already graffiti bathroom walls. Nationalism, in this sense, does not resemble patriotism altogether, but rather is the essential cooperation and coordination of the American people and their representatives to set and reach common goals for US betterment.
However, our own polarization has backlogged these ambitions, turning debate into prolonged debacle. Now more than ever, regardless of your personal views on businessman Donald J. Trump, now president-elect, must Lady Liberty’s character remain intact—as one cooperative country for progress and togetherness—else her copper visage will continue to fracture.
Political hostility, primarily from Republicans, has already paralyzed much progress. And in 2016, their rivalry has only intensified, Pew Research Center reports. The hive minds of each major party continue to lock horns, but when the dust clears, no-one gains. These fiery bouts morph into growing obstacles that hinder the democratic, law-making process. We can look to the scramble over a Supreme Court chair as a recent example. In March, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the SCOTUS in order to fill a vacancy left by deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. However, the GOP-dominated Senate refuses to hold a confirmation hearing, largely due to his liberal (albeit moderate) stance. Even in the case of an essential government function, the partisan branches display an adamant unwillingness to work together. Republican senator Lindsey Graham encapsulates his party’s agitation against Garland’s nomination: "Even if you [Obama] picked me, Lindsey Graham, I would lead the charge against me because you were the one who picked me…" Now seven months later in December, the Supreme Court still remains a seat short. Although this Senate roadblock has shown few short-term consequences, long-since-begotten antagonism between the Democratic Party and the GOP unmasks itself yet again, reviving along with it their obstructionist directives. Extrapolate these relations to times of crisis such as direct engagement with ISIL, which soon-to-be President Trump has proposed along the campaign trail. With the government at odds with itself, how could we establish initiatives to resolve impending threats?
Despite our differences, we Republicans, Democrats, Independents alike must learn to compromise. The Framers of the Constitution were locked in bitter dispute: North vs. South over commerce regulation, but like many great resolves, the delegates discovered a middle ground, splitting commerce into three constituents, regulating only two. Take note politicians, and follow their wise path. There is no need to reinvent the political process; we just need to return to our educated, Washington-esque roots. However, with legislative and executive power shifting to the GOP come January, the two branches are more likely to work together for resolutions, unlike under the current Obama administration where GOP congressmen barred much of the POTUS’s plans. The need for compromise appears minimized by slim majority control, with a dissenting other half. Yet, the new Republican Congress has promised to undo much of the progress made in Obama’s eight years. Instead of building upon the imperfect framework that Obamacare and other policies laid out, congressional opponents seek to repeal them in their entirety and again go back the drawing board. Similarly, China and Cuba are disquieted. How a Trump presidency might potentially damage fragile, preexisting Cuban and Chinese relations is unknown.
The thawed Cold War revealed the United States as the global superpower, but recently, the well-known American allure has faded; industrialized Europeans outrank us in crucial aspects such as education, infrastructure, and healthcare. We are behind not because of our lack of resolve, but because of an onslaught of political obstacles and perpetual opposition. Every general election cycle this procedure repeats: progress made, progress lost, progress made, progress lost. Even at the federal level, nationalism sees itself poisoned, fallen, and forgotten amid partisanship’s brawls to the people’s detriment, where solely the antidotes of commonality can launch revival.
Rationale alone—not these party lines—can decide an American future with certainty. We must participate in cultured debate akin to the classical Athenian body politic, ecclesia. Once we set the bitterness of party collective thought aside, our globalized enlightened individualism works towards a cooperative national identity. GOP Ohio governor John Kasich garnered much applause stating, “The Republican party is my vehicle, not my master.” If we can decide for ourselves what our political views are, polarization along party lines ceases to exist.
As a country, we do not share any one agenda. Instead, we remain a nation of varying viewpoints, ideals, and values; this national identity is what defines the American spirit. In a globalized world where no region is a single culture or color, or where 800 unique languages are spoken in just New York City, or where the average household contains items originating from all four corners of the Earth, nationalism seems impractical. Nevertheless, all still share citizenship’s common bond, in spite of our distinctive identities. Under nationalism, these traits are what enable congressmen to understand different points of view and collaborate. The presidential debates and speeches of mainstream politics leave much to be desired; they lack newness, innovation. In contrast, a diverse but nationalist Congress can present fresh perspectives likely to gain momentum in assembly. What is truly good for the nation now takes precedence over adherence to party platform. Just this year, Obama signed the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act, which lays out a process to instate tax cuts on manufacturers to compete in the global market. Both Democratic and Republican congressmen sponsored the bill. Although Congress and the POTUS rarely co-op, their work together is fruitful. The act seeks to address a $1.8 billion loss in the economy due to tax hikes on manufacturers over a span of years.
However, we must not conflate the true promise of nationalism with hatred. Donald Trump's election to the office of the presidency has stirred divisive controversy. He inspires a sense of unity among his followers, yet with hostile undertones. Terms like sexism and white supremacy have once again stolen the political spotlight. In truth, there is no place in nationalism or patriotism for prejudice and discrimination. Nationalism, instead should provide a base of unity for strength and solidarity. For example, a few years ago, a student in my school district was alarmingly diagnosed with lymphoma. Nevertheless, the community of Sparta Township responded. A student-teacher effort raised funds to pay the majority of his medical bills, alleviating his family’s economic hardship. At home football games, the student section wore lymphoma awareness lime T-shirts displaying their support. He was able to galvanize a student body without disunity, in the process, defining a healthy schoolwide identity. American nationalism does the same—for 300 million individuals as a collective people, regardless of the world’s new heterogeneity. Events like Apollo 11, WWII, the Miracle on Ice, all enabled the American populace to strive for a common goal of survival and success just as my classmate did, but in a global context.
In the open and optimistic American mind, political discourse and dissent are often met with welcoming praise. It is core to our governance and our constitutionality. Free and diverse speech is prized for its ability to invent, alter, revise, and reinvent US policy and legislation. But these American values have also created a toxic byproduct, an unruly Frankenstein, composed of frustrated filibusters and congressional gridlock. Resolutions vanish every four years, and our once tightly-knit nationalistic backbone appears shattered. No longer do Americans grieve or celebrate or thrive together. The US must reacclimate itself to a world of advanced opponents and tough competitors through the unlimited potential of collaboration—disregarding trivial differences but anointing the ingenious ones. We must step away from political infighting and return to the wise passions of our Founding Fathers, so we may once again be united as we stand.