With talk of a second American Civil War in the air earlier this year (google "civil war" clinton trump), maybe I just had to read another book about Gettysburg, had to remind myself that our country has been through worse times, had to remember that eventually it pulled itself imperfectly together again.
In Gettysburg:The Last Invasion
, Allen C. Guelzo superbly blends both details and grand themes from the high drama of 1863. Throughout, his emphasis is on the terrible impact the battle, and the war, had on people who experienced it.
Among many sobering questions Civil War books arouse in me is whether there was a way slavery could have been quickly eliminated without the war. I still haven't found a convincing answer that it could. Even with emancipation, African Americans were soon reduced to peonage in the South and widespread discrimination in the North. And, after the war, it was the same generation of Americans who soon completed the violent subjugation of the remaining native tribes in the West.
Compared to that kind of trauma, Clinton vs. Trump feels tame. Even compared to the economic crisis of the 1930s, all the current noise about jobs and taxes and income disparities and government regulation sounds tinny.
Nonetheless, the political divide is stark, the worst in my memory, which includes the 1960s. At that time, there were strong feelings about civil rights and the Vietnam War, but the political center felt much stronger. Now it really does feel as though the country is cracking in half politically, even if that doesn't cause another actual civil war.
So it seems to me we need to remember the question that Abraham Lincoln raised in his Gettysburg Address and is movingly recalled by Guelzo: whether a nation whose rulers are chosen by the people can indeed long endure. That means that regardless how the upcoming election turns out, the tens of millions of scared and/or angry American voters -- myself included -- will show their truest patriotism by taking a lot of deep breaths, staying involved with the process and reaching out to those on the other side as much as possible.
Easy to say, I know. But a lot better than going back to Cemetery Hill.
Evan - Married, three children, two grandchildren, formerly a newspaper journalist, now a public librarian, at all times a board game nut.