Will Americans Ever Be United?

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, July 30, 2020

We might be the United States, but we’re hardly a united people. Hasn’t the melting pot of the world produced a particularly unhomogenized population?

If you pick any year in our history and study it, divisiveness is the norm. This has got me to wondering, are there topics of agreement that we mostly share?

For example, if we pass a law that means we want 100% of the people to abide by the law. Yet, a law can be passed by only a fraction of the population. Does it really make sense for 50% of the people to say how 100% of the people should act? But we’ll probably never get 100% agreement on anything. So, shouldn’t we think harder about what percentage of the vote equals a proper majority?

Would it be fair to require an 80% majority? That would still mean 20% of the population would oppose the law and would probably be unhappy. But it would also mean 80% of the population would be happy.

What we have is a happiness v. unhappiness ratio. Right now, we have a 50/50 ratio, which explains why our society is so polarized. Wouldn’t America be somewhat happier with a 60/40 ratio? And even happier with a 75/25 ratio?

We’re never going to have a 100% happy society. But shouldn’t we try to reduce the unhappy portion of the equation? My guess if we agreed to make 60% the required majority to win any vote, we’d see a shift in the contentment of the nation.

Ideally though, we’d eventually need to increase that to 75%, but right now that would be an impossibility. Just developing a 60% consensus would take a tremendous effort, mainly in learning how to make compromises.

12 thoughts on “Will Americans Ever Be United?”

  1. Hi James,
    As we know the US was founded on the rugged individual. Every man’s struggle is their own. The notion of the common good is a principle of socialization less familiar to a community of individuals than to citizens who measure the health and prosperity by the community as a whole.

    A concerted response to a national health emergency from the federal authorities was always going to be a challenge whether it is President Trump or someone else. It’s just not the American tradition. Of course Trump’s approach only serves his own needs which makes it a doubly challenging time for all.

    One of the flaws in the American system of democracy is the 2 party system. Many commentators have written long and hard on this topic. Although the founders treated the idea of forming political parties with trepidation they were also resigned to the institution as a necessary and a natural process.

    The Westminster parliamentary system allows for any ligament number of party affiliations. This type of system allows for a variety of world views where in a minority parliament consensus is necessary in order to formulate policy. Of course in a Majority parliament the power of one party is almost absolute. At least the possibility exists for either situation. Unfortunately in a two party system there is less room for dissent or compromise. Voting becomes an all or nothing proposition in most cases, and the divide is damaging overtime.

    If a third party was sanctioned in both houses of Congress, this might open the middle ground as a legitimate voice for the people who now have more options in which to vote with views that reflect their own.

    No system is perfect, however raising the bar on the majority to even 60% as is the case with certain votes now, is one thing, raising it even further only increases the pressure on every vote, where a third party system builds in negotiation and trade offs from the first of deliberations. I submit a more satisfying and functionary process than last minute incrimination’s

    1. There’s a difference between multiparty systems that build coalitions and just having a third party. The Republicans have done well by building a coalition of special interest groups, so in a way, they are like a multiparty system. No, I think we need something intrinsically different about the system that tricks us into working out compromises. A simple majority just isn’t working. And it’s illogical when you think about it. We should slowly work up to a two-thirds majority. Right now we can have minority rule. That’s insane.

      I’m just thinking if a majority was a bit larger it would have a profound effect in the long run. If you look at polls of significant issues, it’s quite common for Americans to agree in the 70-80% range, even higher, if you combine the completely agree with percentage with the mostly agree percentage.

      Just look at this recent Pew poll on abortion. Only 12% want abortion illegal in all cases, and 61% want it legal in all (27%) or most cases (34%). Why should the 12% get their way? The 26% that want it illegal in most cases still show a willingness to compromise. Of course, there is a middle combination of 60% that want abortion controlled in some way. In other words, there are two combinations of opinions shared by 60% of the population.

      I think such a middle-ground coalition of opinions is possible for most issues. Yet, the most active people politically seek extreme all-or-none positions. Maybe I’m just advocating for grayscale politics. We’re learning that this isn’t a binary world.

      1. I would submit that although both parties have evolved separate interest groups. In the end however (for the vote), they all fall in line with the party elite who ultimately have the final say. All well and good as far as the party goes. except when the other party goes differently with their own version of the ‘right way’ A third party forces the conversation to occur in this case 3 ways. Where party elites in order to obtain a majority or 60% need to seek consensus outside party lines of which they do not have full control.

        There is still no guarantee that stalemate is not a possible outcome, however overtime it may have the effect of chipping away at polarized views of all or nothing.

        Rule by plebiscite would I believe undermine public authority

    2. Hi, I’m from India and we do have a Multi Party system and allows alliances between parties to form alliances. but at the end of the day, it is majorly just two parties that weild most power, The BJP and the Indian National Congress.

      Yes, a multi party system is a really good approach and that you don’t have two extremes and can find parties in the middle of both the left and the right wing.

      But what I have majorly observed atleast in the recent years was dirty politics in alliances and party power and floor test situations. There sure are major cons to this system as well.
      Try reading this https://m.timesofindia.com/india/maharashtra-political-drama-the-story-so-far/amp_articleshow/72273911.cms

      This is what happened in the State elections last year.

      Perhaps all this is because of the extreme diversity and population in the country, and could be actually helpful in the USA by virtue of its smaller population (1/6th of India approx.) And lesser diversity (by numbers).

      1. I’m sorry I couldn’t find the edit option on my phone, but recently, the game of power shifted it towards forming alliances to come into power rather than what the party actually stands for and the people it represents

  2. “Happy”.
    “The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
    North v South.
    Cities–“urban areas,” “inner cities” v small town, country, rural America.
    “United We Stand. Divided We Fall”.
    And as you stated, “United States” v that “divisiveness” that is indeed absolutely “the norm”.
    James, you are at the bottom of a rabbit running ’round and ’round on a gerbil wheel and you know it because at the end of the day, none of this has anything at all to do with the human emotion known as “happiness”.
    I’m “happy” when my wife and I have sex. Am I supposed to live in a world where I walk around with that “feeling” of physical and emotional satiation…all day…every day? Am I to believe that every single person is supposed to “happy”…every single moment of every single day? No, of course not. But words do mean things.
    You wrote it yourself:
    “We’re never going to have a 100% happy society. But shouldn’t we try to reduce the unhappy portion of the equation? My guess if we agreed to make 60% the required majority to win any vote, we’d see a shift in the contentment of the nation.”
    How do we “reduce the unhappy portion of the equation”? Yes, you could have written “increase…the happy portion…of the equation”.
    Is “happiness” a pie and everyone deserves the same sized slice? If not, how then do you convince “some people, some of the time,” to be “content” with their smaller size? Why should I get the smaller size? Why not that guy over there?
    It is about political power and control, that and nothing more, meaning the determination to be on the “winning side” of that division.
    People like me, here in the south, in “small town, country, and rural” Virginia were not the least bit “happy” when all those “gun control” laws started being passed back in ’60s (remember those “Saturay Night Specials”) because of all that “violence,” all those shootings that were taking place…in those “big cities” up yonder in the north. Well, “they” won…that “majority” won, didn’t they? And all those laws passed…to remove those guns…to remove all that “violence”…all became the laws…for everyone else living in areas that wern’t having those problems. So “they” won. Are “they”…those who “won” the debate…now “happy”? The answer is “Hell no.” So “they”…that “majority”…”won”…and they still aren’t “happy” and that’s because, according to them, “we”–everybody, everywhere–simply need more “gun control”.
    Pick a topic, any topic. It is always, always, always going to play out the same. It reduces to that good “feeling” that you are on the “winning side,” which is, of course, the side that is in control, the side that has the power. It is absolutely nothing more than the story of human history, of one group, one class of people, having power and control over others. They, it, that “ruling class”…and its followers…want what they want and yes, essentially to hell with everybody else. In other words: “You lost. Get over.” Now this way: “Be content with it.” Or as was once said, “Let ’em eat cake.”
    And it is simply amazing to me, personally, that around here, again, in my little part of southwestern Virginia, that “back when” we were kids, of far greater importance than the “pursuit of happiness” was serious inquiry into meaning and purpose in life.
    But that is what “we,” as the divided nation that it is, no longer discuss, is it? We do not discuss meaning and purpose and we do not discuss that “human nature” that has led to this division. People make choices. Actions have consequences. And those consequences can indeed be exactly as planned. They can also be unexpected. And they can just as easily turn out to be the last thing you’d ever want, those damnable unintended consequences.
    But no, all that was set aside because it is so much easier to wax oh so eloquently about political and socio-economic “rights” and “equality” and “fairness” and “justice”. Vague, ambiguous words scribbled on signs by people who believe not in themselves, but only their self-identificuation with a group that always reserves the right to protest and demand less of and from themselves and more from yet another group.
    Literal or simply a myth, it is the story in Genesis. Adam and Eve had everything they would “need”. There was one rule: “Do not eat, hell, do not even touch that tree over yonder.” And more than already having everything they would ever “need,” they “wanted” that…one…thing. Choices. Actions. Consequences.
    These days, “personal freedom” means little more than “I can do pretty much what I want and I demand the ‘right’ to be ‘free’ from the consequences.” I.E., “This and that make me ‘happy’ and I have the ‘right’ to ‘be happy,’ don’t I?” So who, exactly, is that “authority figure” that I am to trust, to have faith in, to “pledge allegiance to,” that is going to tell me what I can and cannot have, what I can and can’t do? And that question is to be answered in terms of a mathematical formula? We will agree to disagree…as long as I am on the winning side?
    So I want a gun. No, I want lots of guns. I have the “right” to have ’em. But I don’t like guns. Nobody needs ’em ‘cept maybe for hunting.
    I want a kid. But I don’t want to work. I want free money. I want more kids. I demand more money. I have the “right”. It’s only “fair”. So keep your legs together. Ever hear of birth control? Marry the guy that knocked you up. Make him work and support you.
    I want to go to college…and it should be free. Well, free for me but not for thee.
    “Happiness” and “contentment” are words I never, ever use in the context of political discussion.
    Or am I to believe that this time (!), this generation (!) is going to manage to pull Mr. Bunny out of the hat, something no generation, period, in all of recorded human history, has ever managed to do?
    I’ll watch. I’ll wait. But I wll not hold my breath.
    I.E., there are no “happy” endings, not in this story, not in the context of politics.

    1. But Randy, there are countries with citizens that are much happier than ours. That suggests it’s possible to be happier as a society, even for us. And I’m not looking for the kind of happiness you get by having sex with your wife, I’m just hoping the country could be a little less miserable. All I’m talking about is some compromises. I’d say a large majority of Americans want guns, but also a large majority of Americans want some kind of gun control. There’s got to be some kind of middle ground between the 10 percent that want no guns, and the 10 percent that wants military-grade arms. We need to ignore the extremes in any population.

      You’re pretty pessimistic about the human race Randy, maybe not a Misanthrope, but you don’t hold out much hope. I’m pretty pessimistic myself, but I keep thinking we’ll hit rock bottom and decide we need to change our ways and start improving.

      1. James…
        You are one of the few people…spread out over all the years of my life…who, I’ll say, “calls my bluff” on these things.
        So you will understand the punchline better’n anyone:
        In the ’70s…and avoiding all details and defintions of terms and all that stuff…I became a Christian. And you are right: Here I am, all these years later, yes, a true Misanthrope. I have zero faith, no hope, at all, in and for the human animal.
        So it is in that context that I get to say, “Good thing I’m not God. ‘They’ thought Noah’s flood was bad? ‘They’ thought parting the Red Sea was bad? Ha! ‘They’ ain’t seen nothing yet ’cause I’m lettin’ loose the hounds of hell and ending this nonsense.”
        And that brevity takes me right back to that “beginning” in the ’70s: Genesis 6:6.
        And James, thank you, more than you can imagine, for taking all that rambling stuff in exactly the context it was intended, i.e., not personally.
        As always, you stay safe and be well.

        1. Randy, do you still consider yourself a Christian? I would think it would be a religion that has hope for people. Remember the movie, The Big Chill, and the opening scene at the funeral? I can’t remember exactly what the preacher said, but he claimed the Baby Boomers were a generation that lost hope.

          I’m not religious, as you know. And I try not to read signs into reality. But if I did, I’d say 2020 is experiencing 12 plagues from Yahweh. We’ve been cursed by animosity, greed, jealousy, resentment, doubt, and seven other terms like those five.

          My current theory is the human race is intelligent, just not quite intelligent enough to save itself from self-destruction. What could save us is a social organization. We know many kinds of society have failed, so there’s no guarantee there is a workable solution. But most of our intelligence is contained in the structure of society, and not within individuals. If we relied on people to remember math we’d all still be counting on our fingers. The American revolution inspired so many other societies in the last two centuries, so it would be a shame if it crashed and burned.

          1. James,
            As I said, I’ve been having these little debates and discussions since ’79 when my now ex-wife and I separated, “back when” I was “active in the church,” preaching, and all that stuff. I preached my last sermon on Sunday 06/10/79 when I “knew” that it was over between the two of us. I stood there and simply asked for some “wisdom” from those people, those who were “older in the faith”. I walked out before they could finish giving me that “advice”. I went back the next Sunday, told the preacher what my sermon was going to be. He said “No.” I walked out and except for getting remarried on Saturday 03/20/80, I’ve not stepped foot inside a church.
            (You like punch lines? When Lisa and I–my second wife and still hanging in there with me after all these years…meaning she is a much better person than I could ever hope to be–were planning our wedding, the first person I called was that same preacher. He refused…because he was “changing” from this denomination to that. Seriously?)
            So now to answer your question: Do I consider myself a Christian?
            James, with all the love I have for my wife, the only truthful, honest answer I can give is…I don’t know. And that answer means only that it is not (!) a question or doubt of my “faith” in God (please do not interpret that in terms of “religion”…that’s the battle I’ve been fighting all these years…the difference between “faith” and adherence to, of “belief in” “organized religion”) but rather whether or not God…has faith in me.
            Think of the Prodigal Son. He returns home and all live happily ever after. What if returns home…to discover that the King has picked up his castle and simply moved on?
            So these days, I am quite content to “identify” with Judas…the guy who was “sent to his own place”.
            As for those boomers and yep, that includes you and me, that generation? Hands down, the worst generation in this country’s history. Short version: I started working full-time the day after I graduated from high school, Friday 06/06/69. I reported to “Personnel Managers”. By 1980, when those boomers had gotten out of college (anything to avoid going to Viet Nam) and were moving into their positions of “Corporate Management,” suddenly I had to talk to “Human Resource Managers”. Yeah, I think I would call boomers the first generation with a sense of “entitlement”. Or this way: They were going to save the world. Yeah, how has that worked out?
            As for those “signs”. Oh, I’m surprised how it is that that is not THE message coming from the church these days…except that “church” changed from what it was, had been, “back when” I was part of it in order to have more, yep, political power and control. You know, all that good stuff about the “gospel of prosperity” and how if you have “real faith,” God will “heal” you of anything and everything. Really? THAT is what “faith” in “God” is/was supposed to be all about? (See why I walked away?)
            But maybe it is time for those other countries, so influenced by this county, to serve as a “guiding light” to this country, to remind Americans that, “Hey. Y’all really can do better, you know.”
            I really do want to believe that…but we’re back to the human nature that can’t make up its mind from one generation to the next what a good, decent “path” from birth to death should be.

  3. The current state of the United States shows how out-of-control our national mental health is. Just the controversy about wearing masks and social distancing during a pandemic illustrates how deep in trouble we are. And, I won’t get into the lunatics who are running our Government. Until we get a handle on sanity and reason, we’re going to struggle as a nation.

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