By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College
Secede or Succeed? School kids have been mixing them up for years. Perhaps Americans have done so as well. In this column, I look at whether we’re headed for another Civil War, or if we’re more unified than the media would have us believe.
Grammarist claims that while seceding involves formally withdrawing from a larger group, succeeding means to accomplish something intended or desired. Which best fits America?
“The United States today is, once again, headed for civil war, and, once again, it cannot bear to face it. The political problems are both structural and immediate, the crisis both longstanding and accelerating. The American political system has become so overwhelmed by anger that even the most basic tasks of government are increasingly impossible,” writes Stephen Marche with The Guardian. He cites our problems, violent acts, low approval ratings, militia groups, and analogies to America’s past, circa 1860. And it’s not hard to find a poll showing Americans think a civil war is coming, with more than a third even supporting secession.
Heck, Cobb County is already witnessing this, as some Atlantans moved to Cobb County to escape their city now want to form their own cities, to “secede,” in effect, from the county.
Certainly, civil war is what seems to get much of the coverage, but is that how America is? Peace and tranquility just don’t sell as well. If unemployment is high, that’s the story. If joblessness is at historic lows, then inflation will dominate the headlines, even if it is lower than before.
A RollCall poll contending that “Americans united in worry over political divisions but not much else” pretty much buried the lead. “White voters apparently fear we are close to civil war, 58% say they are more optimistic for the future because young people are committed to making America better. Only 38% disagreed.” They also found the number believing we’re headed in the right direction increased slightly, just as those thinking things were getting worse declined.
In a late April 2023 poll, CNN reported “In stark contrast to the widespread discontent with the state of the nation, most Americans tend to be relatively satisfied with the course of their own lives.” They think the country’s not so well off, but they’re doing just fine. And how is that myth of our failing society fed? It’s a combination of “Bad News Bias” which taps into our brains more than good information and both foreign and domestic sources of propaganda, which some Americans amazingly believe more strongly than what they personally experience.
Gallup provides more evidence that people are succeeding, but thinking that they or others aren’t. Their report says “Many more Americans are achieving success according to their own views of success (‘personal success’) than what they believe to be society’s views of success (‘perceived societal success’).” And for most Americans, personal success isn’t just about money. It includes examples of success in education, relationship, character, health, work, and quality of life, not just status and wealth. That’s also something frequently missed in the same sort of propaganda that characterizes most Americans as shallow money-grubbers.
So why are we so successful? Pew Research Center asked Americans, and this is what we said.
“When asked whether the U.S. owed its success more to its ‘ability to change’ or its ‘reliance on long-standing principles,’ 51% of Americans attributed its success to the ability to change, while 43% pointed to reliance on long-standing principles.” It’s not that Americans aren’t patriotic (89% claim to be in Pew’s poll), or don’t like the Constitution, but perhaps they appreciate the wisdom of the Founding Fathers in making the ability of future generations of Americans to have a voice in how we are governed. And that’s a real recipe for success for the USA.