Exceptional: divided we fall

Exceptional is a series of pieces I am working on highlighting some of the most important forgotten stories of American history. Through this, I hope to remind myself and others what truly makes us exceptional.

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I will admit, I had a pretty good laugh at the expense of Sean Spicer this week. Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of the maligned press secretary on Saturday Night Live was some of the best work I’ve seen on the show since the Tina Fey era ended. Unfortunately, according to many unconfirmed sources, President Trump remains unamused by SNL’s depictions of himself and his colleagues. It has been reported that he chastised Spicer for laughing at himself. He can’t take the joke. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, SNL has soared to new heights of bias along with the rest of the media. The past few episodes I’ve caught have featured Trump bashing from start to finish. Many of their writers have publicly attacked both him, and his family in dishonorable, untactful fashion. He is in their best skit(s) in every episode. There is nothing more American than the good natured satire displayed on SNL for the last four and a half decades, and each president’s gracious response to them. It has served as a beautiful picture of both our enlightened, responsible free speech, and the humility of our elected officials.

The presidential-SNL feud isn’t the problem, it is a symptom. It has been said that America is as divided today as it has been since the Civil War. On the surface, that sounds rather gloom and doom, but the optimist takes a different perspective. The student of history reads that, and considers that we have been here before. Therefore, there must be some lesson in our history that we may be able to apply to this situation, or from which we can gleam some insight

Much was made of tensions between then president elect Trump, and President Obama during the transition and inauguration. Whatever disdain and ill will may have been present, it pales in comparison to the transition of power between our second and third presidents. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were once the best of friends. The two labored together to write the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson wrote it, Adams was his aide). Jefferson once called Adams “the colossus of the revolution.” All feelings of fondness and kinship had long since faded by March 4, 1801. On the day Jefferson was to be inaugurated President, his long time friend and current President John Adams was nowhere to be found. He fled the capitol the night before, unable to bear the sight of his now most hated foe taking the inaugural address.

Adams and Jefferson fell victim to the same lie we are falling victim to as a country now. They put politics before people. After the revolution, they discovered they had some stark disagreements on the proper way to govern the country. Adams became the head of the Federalist Party, and Jefferson the Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson attacked Adams in his newspapers, and Adams used his Alien and Sedition Acts to silence them. Jefferson became so displeased with his “colossus of the Revolution”, that he saw fit to launch the first ever bid to run against a sitting president for reelection. Obviously, Jefferson won, and Adams departed in disgrace, without so much as a handshake.

The good news is, the story did not end there. In 1812, over 10 years since Adams fled the capitol by night, Jefferson responded to a letter from Adams with what can only be called poetry.

“A letter from you calls up recollections very dear to my mind. It carries me back to the times when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right of self-government. Laboring always at the same oar, with some wave ever ahead threatening to overwhelm us and yet passing harmless under our bark, we knew not how, we rode through the storm with heart and hand, and made a happy port.”
The men continued to exchange letters of friendship into their twilight years.The letters are archived in the library of congress, and are considered a national treasure.
On July 4th, 1826, the 50th birthday of our nation, John Adams passed away. His last words were “Jefferson survives.” Only a few hours later, Thomas Jefferson succumbed to old age and joined him in Glory. The men walked side by side through the fire of revolution, and side by side into the afterlife.
Thirty-nine years later, a now grizzled old man from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, would follow their example of political peace making after the signing of the Confederacy’s surrender at Appomattox. The day after the Civil War ended, President Lincoln called the national band to Washington to march in a parade through the capitol. He did not order them to play the star spangled banner. He did not order them to play The Battle Hymn of the Republic. On the day that the Union achieved victory, the band marched around the capitol playing Dixie, the fight song of the Confederacy. This may be the greatest snapshot of the character of Abraham Lincoln, and the embodiment of what makes us Exceptional.
These times are contentious. University campuses are burning, people groups are being made to believe they are not welcome here, and nearly everyone with a microphone is screaming words of division. Let those of us who are learned take up the burden of being the peacemakers. It is time for us to turn off MSNBC and Fox News alike. Sensationalism breeds discord. If we are to survive this time of turbulence as our fore bearers did, we must resolve to not put politics ahead of people, and adopt a civil tone in our rhetoric with even our most ferocious enemies.

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