Whither America: “E Pluribus Unum” or “E Pluribus Pluribus”? (2/3)
Do you think an activist cross-partisan constituency is necessary to the health and well-being of American democracy?
by The Cross-Partisan Action Network | 1.16.19
Read Part 2 of Rob Stein's conversation on cross-partisanship below. Revisit Part 1 here, check back soon for Part 3, and take action above to share you opinion!
Whither America: “E Pluribus Unum” or “E Pluribus Pluribus”?
A distinguished committee comprising John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others, adopted the phase “e pluribus unum” in 1782 to adorn the Great Seal of the United States. These immortal words remain emblazoned on the national emblem of the United States, official U.S. passports, the seals of the President, the Vice President, the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Supreme Court and on all U.S. coins currently being manufactured.
The significance of “out of many, one” to our national identity and character has evolved over time:
"….the phrase offered a strong statement of the American determination to form a single nation from a collection of states…(and in time has become) a reminder of America’s bold attempt to make one unified nation of people from many different backgrounds and beliefs. The challenge of seeking unity while respecting diversity has played a critical role in shaping our history, our literature, and our national character." -----The E Pluribus Unum Project, Assumption College
Modernity frustrates the attainment of e pluribus unum. It is profoundly difficult for democracies to retain a sense of nationhood in an increasingly mobile, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and social media saturated, narrow-cast world. Powerful single-issue and constituency advocates on both sides of the political spectrum isolate political energies into silo-ed camps while fragmenting political messaging. The more aggressively we stoke our multiple differences, the graver the danger that our competing divisions will diminish our ability to clarify a national narrative and share a national purpose.
The two-party political industrial complex and its multi-billion-dollar arsenal are fueled by a powerful coterie of political professionals – data scientists and analysts, media specialists, pollsters, opposition researchers, messaging mavens and field generals – who charge vast sums to airbrush political images and manufacture negative impressions. Each side of this dueling two-party apparatus and its candidates, aligned non-profits and consultants for hire, ferociously seeks political advantage to enforce its will and overwhelm its adversaries.
Most entrenched partisans are unlikely to reform or re-imagine American politics. They frequently are intellectually and temperamentally enmeshed in a self-perpetuating machinery devoted to oppositional certainty. In the process, they are reducing our democracy to an increasingly meaningless cacophony, a veritable “E Pluribus Pluribus”.
Nor should we expect most partisans to set aside their passionate perspectives or to engage with others with whom they disagree. Partisanship is a natural and necessary feature of democracy that provides an outlet for impassioned feelings, a conduit for opposing world views and a point / counterpoint for political debate.
Natural and necessary, yes, but not sufficient. The foundation of the ideal of E Pluribus Unum, as well as for the vitality of democracy, is allegiance to a cause larger than that trapped in duopolistic certitude and petty power struggles, grander than political party and more noble than yet another single issue or constituency movement dependent entirely on one or the other party’s support.
A shared national identity requires honoring differences while accepting mutual responsibilities for our common destiny. While tribes create a sense of belonging that is essential to the psychological well-being of our species, democracy requires that we also belong to a cause larger than our personal tribe. “Unum” – a belief in nationhood - in the context of the twenty-first century’s magnificent diversity is as vital today as it was in the America of 1782 when the thirteen colonies were attempting the somewhat more modest, albeit fraught, task of birthing a new nation.
To be continued...check back soon for:
Realizing the Ideals of “E Pluribus Unum” is Dependent on Building A Sustainable Cross-Partisan Constituency (Part 3)
In case you missed it...revisit:
Rob Stein is a former Senior Strategist, Democratic National Committee (1989-1992); Founder, Democracy Alliance (2005); Co-founder, Committee On States (2007); and currently committed to building an enduring cross-partisan constituency to chart the track back to the ideals of E Pluribus Unum.
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