Divide et impera (divide and conquer), a maxim made famous by Julius Caesar, has served as an effective strategy of tyrants and dictators for all of time. Whether utilized in the political arena, as a military strategy, or even in economics, the principle is always the same: seize and maintain control by dividing any concentration of power larger than your own.
An obvious strategy? Most definitely. But as strange as it may seem, where military enemies and economic monopolies will always strive to maintain their concentration of power, populations are often prone to help feed the division, and as a result, subject themselves to the will of the tyrant.
Here in the good old USofA, that tyrant is an economic elite who have not only seized control of industry but have parlayed their wealth to purchase the reins of government as well. Through manipulation of regulation and taxation, they’ve managed to rig the economic game to where the richest 1% now claim 24% of all income and hold more financial wealth than 95% of Americans — all while the divided population has seen their median income actually decline.
Anthropologists in the distant future will undoubtedly look back at 21st Century America and marvel at how a democratic society, founded on the principles of equality, could have become the 5th worst nation in the world in terms of wealth inequality. But under further scrutiny, those students of history will most certainly recognize the successful implementation of divide and conquer, and the destructive impact of fostering distrust, enmity and division amongst the populace.
Make no mistake about it, the true division in America isn’t the artificial divide carved out between liberals and conservatives, between left and right. These groups have legitimate differences, but the vast majority of the population is grouped around a pragmatic center, where the common ground is fertile, and lasting solutions are only a cooperative dialog away. All it takes is a quick glance behind the curtain to reveal the truth about our great left/right divide — born of divide et impera — it’s nothing but subterfuge designed to conceal the true chasm between those on the top and bottom of the economic pyramid.
Without doubt, much of the perceived divide amongst working Americans is the direct result of a long and deliberate campaign to misinform the electorate. Thomas Jefferson was crystal clear when he said, “whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Sadly, instead of meeting Jefferson’s requirement for trust, our present day electorate fits better into a conundrum expressed by another great American, Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Literally millions of good hard-working people on the left seem to believe that their fellow Americans on the right are just a bunch of callous, self-indulgent, self-righteous, intolerant imbeciles, who value guns, war and money over everything else. But that’s okay, because those folk on the right don’t really care about the opinions of a pack of elitist intellectuals and the lazy, good-for-nothing, parasitical slugs they support living large off the public dole.
Who could ask for more substantive grounds for an all-out war of ideologies? The problem is, as Mark Twain would say — it just ain’t so!
Yes, there are some number of people who fill each and every one of these stereotypes, from the gun-toting anarchist to the lazy welfare mom, from the self-absorbed psychopath to the bleeding heart liberal, but these extremes do not define the American public. By and large, most Americans all want the same thing: the opportunity to live a decent life, provide for their loved ones, and enjoy some sense of security in both the present and future.
Most liberal Americans do support welfare spending, but the vast majority are as opposed to abuse of the system as the most staunch conservative. Most people on the right are acutely sensitive to the burden of taxation, but by an overwhelming majority, they also understand that we must, as a nation, invest in our infrastructure and in our people. The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to core values, We the People, regardless of race, creed, color or political affiliation, are of the same heart and mind. You wouldn’t know it by watching the political theater, but the vast majority of us agree on the vast majority of everything from gun control to taxation, on education, energy, abortion, military spending, gay rights, wealth distribution, free trade, the banks, Congress . . .
We can address the issues of our society, but we must first reject the artificial division that’s been imparted upon us by a self-serving minority seeking nothing but their own advantage. The solutions will not be found in heated debate and staunch advocacy — they will be found by listening as much as we speak, by doing our best to understand the concerns of all stakeholders. The liberal focused on the issues of climate change must come to recognize the legitimate concerns of the conservative whose job working in the coal or oil industry might be threatened . . . and vice-versa. The rightie who loves his guns and fears that the do-gooders on the left are coming after them, needs to understand that nobody wants his guns — they just want to feel safe.
Fed a constant media diet of sensationalism, We the People have been deliberately trained to fixate on our differences and ignore our common ground, always pitted against one another, arguing about the 20% of details that keep us divided, effectively prevented from acting on the 80% on which we agree. None of our issues will ever be solved so long as we insist on taking sides and framing everything as a win/lose battle. The only people who win in that scenario are those who promote the kabuki theater that’s given us the deep polarization we see across our society today. They win by preventing the American people from ever coming together and promoting the common good, because only in division can We the People be exploited for the benefit of the few.
With every passing day, we edge closer to our next economic catastrophe. The banks have become but casinos of mind-boggling proportion, investing in nothing productive. The ethic of “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work” has become all but replaced with disingenuous nonsense about free-trade and globalization. The science of climate change is being largely ignored, as the fossil fuel industry plays from the same deck used by the deceitful tobacco companies who denied the heath hazards of cigarette smoking for more than 20 years. Healthcare costs continue to soar; energy is constantly wasted; bribing of politicians and the purchase of government has essentially been legalized; our war budget is virtually equal to that of the rest of the world combined . . . and still We the People refuse to unite against the only real enemy of peace and prosperity — greed, and the corporatists who embrace and magnify it.
Absent the deceptive rhetoric, the crucial truth is patently obvious to the most casual observer: the core problem with our economy stems from the very same source as our division — concentration of wealth. The truth is that any system that’s structured to provide huge rewards to a select few must be balanced with equivalently huge numbers of people who are forced to struggle with little or nothing. This dynamic eventually manifests in such accumulation by the economic elite that productive investment ceases, unemployment soars, wages stagnate, and in the end the economy collapses. This has led to the demise of every great society in human history.
Middle class wealth will not return until and unless working Americans have the money needed to increase demand without inflating another debt bubble. But don’t hold your breath, because the ONLY way that happens is through government policies that 1) directly invest in America: in infrastructure, education and energy; 2) protect America: through trade policy, tax policy and regulation; 3) heal America: with honest dialog about our problems leading to real corrective action to deal with the divisions in our society, both left/right cultural divisions and the vast top/bottom chasm.
It’s only through government that these changes will occur, but more importantly, only through a government of, by, and for the People. That government will never be delivered by political parties that ultimately lose their relevance, their very excuse for existing, in a truly united society. For more than 30 years, the best the politicians have been able to achieve is a slowing of the destruction of our democracy, yet We the People argue and debate and breed more of the enmity and distrust that facilitates our division and allows the very exploitation we seek to address.
Only the People can fix this problem, and only by retaking control of the government and embracing the values of our founding. United we will once again stand, or divided we will be conquered.