Source: The Globe & Mail, 1-25-11
…History suggests Abraham Lincoln’s faith in “the better angels of our nature” has been a fleeting sentiment in American politics. Indeed, his 1861 inaugural appeal to secessionists preceded by only five weeks the outbreak of the paradoxically named Civil War.
Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, with its “self-evident” truths, among them the belief that all men are created equal. Yet, while campaigning for president in 1800, his political pamphlets derided John Adams as “having a hideous hermaphroditical character.”
“Politics could get very raw and tough in those days,” McGill University history professor Gil Troy explained in an interview. But incivility in American politics “has waxed and waned.”
The framers of the U.S. Constitution understood human nature. They wanted to prevent American society from degenerating into rigid, ideologically driven factions – and their potential for destructive conflict. They designed a political system to favour consensus over confrontation.
“They hoped there would be enough countervailing forces and conflicting loyalties, and enough of a sense of a common cause and big-picture nationalism, that there wouldn’t be these permanent parties,” Prof. Troy said.
Instead, rabid partisanship is as much a pillar of American politics as the separation of powers. And it is no coincidence that the current language of political debate rivals in vitriol the worst periods of past two centuries.
“What’s going on in our politics is a reflection of what’s going on in our culture,” Prof. Troy, an American native, added. “We’re in a phase in our history where our culture’s become extremely vulgar. The blogosphere is extremely shrill.”…