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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  Don’t Worry.... We’ve Always Been This Way: A History Teacher’s Perspective
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Monday, January 9,2023

Don’t Worry.... We’ve Always Been This Way: A History Teacher’s Perspective

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  
In today’s political climate, people of all stripes are amped up over just about everything. It’s difficult to pinpoint why divisive politics take hold in certain eras and why others seem less so, but if you dig deep and read about the political climate in any era in our history, our democratic system has inspired and survived divisiveness again and again.

Choose any president, research their political platform, broaden your perspective with the larger societal picture at the time, and you will find that we are a nation of progress and conservatism, religion and sectarianism, rich and poor… and all with voices that have the natural right to express their views, fight for their view, vote for a person who promises to work toward their views… all of us. Naturally this leads to conflict, and often we Americans forget that we are all Americans (yup, even the ones we disagree with) and somehow or other we have, thus far, always survived. Case in point: Over a hundred years ago, Mark Twain said, “The nation is divided, half patriots and half traitors, and no man can tell which from which.”

Nearly a century later, Winston Churchill spoke of democracy as the “worst form of government” in our “world of sin and woe;” however, he also points out that, although not the best, it is better than “all those other forms of government that have been tried from time to time.” It’s true, democracy is messy. It’s imperfect. It is slooooooowwwww moving, for sure. It even has violent upswings during particularly challenging times, such as economic depressions, wars or the expansion of civil rights to marginalized groups – first Black people, then women, always immigrants, and now LGBTQ people. The upside to living in a constitutional republic is freedom, and the right to fight for that freedom if need be. The downside is the fight. But at least that is an option. And in the end, new generations see the light and are more accepting than their forefathers and mothers and progress ensues.

So, if your family is being torn apart by the extremely divisive time we are experiencing, do yourself a favor and read about the constitutional conventions. We all know Hamilton and Jefferson as founding fathers whose legacy lives on. Did you know their political beliefs were so opposed that we almost didn’t have one country? Read about the Federalists and anti-Federalists. Read about the election of 1800. Read about the election of Andrew Jackson. Read anything about Teddy Roosevelt, or his cousin Franklin. John F. Kennedy is a hero, right? You’d never know it by reading the opposing newspapers at that time. In my opinion, it helps to have a broad perspective of our political history to avoid being so tethered to your current beliefs because you think, “it’s never been this bad before!” Yes it has. It’s been worse.

This is not to say we cannot or will not experience another world war or that our democracy is not at risk when our legislators continue to place party over country. But gaining this wider perspective helps inform our current views, and might offer a little breathing room when you feel like “we’ve never been here before.” I’d hate to see a civil war – who wouldn’t!! But we actually had one and somehow survived even that! We are still dealing with the fallout of that war today, and that’s what I’m talking about. When you read about that and realize it was not that long ago, it can help shed light on where other people are coming from. And that, I believe, is the key to the survival of a democratic republic.


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