Independence, Individuality, & Unity

By: Butch Swank

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of a lot of words lately. Patrick Henry said six amazing words that until pretty recently, to me at least, seemed like they only belonged in History Class. Those six words are: “United we stand, divided we fall.” These days, this word choice is very powerful, right? Words always matter, but they seem to take on more depth in uncertain times. Independence, individuality, and unity have become more meaningful to me lately. To me, the word independence means having the ability to make choices and act on your own. Individualism means having freedom of thought and expression – which means you can think what you want AND feel free to share those thoughts. Unity means that, despite our independence and individuality, America still enjoys the firm belief that its citizens universally believe we’re all in this together. Why is Butch giving me a historical vocabulary lesson, you ask? It’s because I feel we have been unconsciously giving up these fundamental concepts that define America in the past decade or so. It’s my hope, though, that more and more of us are beginning to sense that.

Now, I will hit you with a powerful quote by Goethe to ponder: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who believe they are free.”  Looking back, not too long ago, America was defined by individualism. We revered rugged individualism. Being tough and thinking independently was the norm. Everyone was free to be themselves and pursue the American dream however they saw fit. Despite this individual nature, we all held a shared core set of values. Chief amongst those values was this: America is the greatest place on Earth, and with hard work, anyone can succeed. Republican and Democrat, left or right, we all shared this mentality, which has been the underlying recipe for our greatness. Over the past decade, though, we’ve experienced social and political upheaval along with a pandemic that has done a number on our recipe. Uncertain times are frightening, and human nature demonstrates that people will go to great lengths to feel safe again. Attempting to restore normalcy, it seems two different paths were chosen. I am oversimplifying things, but I think it’s fair to say some people ran toward control, and others ran toward freedom. Both sides went very far in their chosen direction, which was the beginning of the division of America. This begs the big question of the day: Was it merely human nature dividing us, or is there something else going on?

Back to believing we’re free for a moment. Have you noticed a feeling in the air that something is not right? It’s unsettling, but it’s there. I believe that feeling is us collectively waking up to the fact that things are broken and that something actually needs to be done. Have you also noticed that any time someone politically, from the left or right, steps slightly out of line, they immediately get crucified in the media? In this current system, that crucifixion is necessary because anyone starting to think individually, instead of as the group, simply cannot be tolerated. Stepping out of line politically used to be an attractive quality because it implied that you could reason independently and, as an added bonus, you had a functioning backbone. It meant you looked after the people who elected you first and your political party second. I believe the reason for the harsh treatment of these individuals is a clear indicator that our current system is beginning to realize something. We, as Americans, are starting to see how we’ve been pitted against one another and that it’s not by accident. We’re not sure how or why, but it becomes more apparent day by day that the tearing apart of our country is deliberate.

God, Family, Country – a priority list that sounds familiar and appropriate, right? These days, we’re constantly told to prioritize instead: Political Party, Political Party, Political Party. What makes things even more painful is our elected officials are largely terrible at their job. Fun fact: according to a recent Gallup poll, 8% of Americans have confidence in Congress. Good Lord, that is astonishing, isn’t it? What’s more astonishing to me is that we keep reelecting these ding-dongs. What’s even weirder to me is how it is even remotely possible that we have also forgotten the vast majority of politicians are just downright icky people. Yet, we now treat politicians as revered celebrities instead of, well, politicians. Why would we act this way? I am telling you it’s because we still believe we are “free.” We’ve been trained to think that being politically outraged equals freedom. So, we’re constantly fed outrage, and yet nothing changes. In a healthy society, things that cause outrage get fixed. Both sides present themselves as being on our side, but they’re really on their own side. Pay attention and watch how they say one thing, but after enough time has passed so no one is paying attention, they act the other. It is time to wake up to the fact you are not being represented anymore; we’re intentionally being divided and pitted against each other, and it’s high time we stop pretending everything is normal.  

For example, I am willing to bet you know at least one family split apart due to politics. In modern America, by voting for the wrong party, you stand a good chance of learning that your own family has been so compromised that they believe, deep in their hearts, that you’re a terrible person and, worst of all, you’re a cult member of “the other side.” This genuinely bizarre conclusion they’ve made comes despite them having known you your entire life. It’s astonishing how effective this deliberate dividing of America is. We’re the greatest country on Earth, and yet have somehow reached the point that we’re voluntarily writing off blood relatives for how they vote? Listen, if you suddenly believe someone you care for is in a cult simply because they voted differently, I’ve got bad news for you: You’re the one sipping the Kool-Aid, and some self-reflection is in order. You’ve voluntarily given up the love you had for your family, friends, and countrymen because they belong to the incorrect political party. You’ve given up what’s most important for what is least important. Politicians will sell their souls for a manilla envelope filled with ones and twenties, and you’ve voluntarily written off your family to align with them. That must be the best damned-tasting Kool-aid ever.

 Life is hard. Life can get really ugly. As a nation, we must begin to act again as individuals and reclaim the unified nature that defines America. From my day-to-day experiences, I strongly feel that despite what you see, read about, and see on the news today, if you picked the farthest left person and the farthest right person you know, they still would agree on 80% of core issues. Not too long ago, if you agreed with someone 80% of the time, it’s not much of a stretch to believe those two individuals would recognize each other as countrymen and as being on the same team together. Our politicians have figured out a new recipe to divide us so they may benefit. You will notice I very deliberately did not assign blame to any particular political party. There’s a reason for that, and it’s painfully ironic. It’s simply because they’re the only ones still on the same team. We’re the ones sitting around throwing rocks at each other. This self-directed division is so amazingly harmful, and it’s incredible to me how many people have not begun to recognize that. The good news is that some have. So, please do your very best to learn about political candidates in the upcoming elections regardless of their political party. Take off the blinders and look into what every candidate stands for. Also, if they’ve been in office for decades, it’s quite possible they no longer have your best interests at heart. I think you get what I’m saying. I wanted to end with good news, so I had to get out the calculator for some serious math. Here’s the answer: A measly 8% confidence in Congress equals 92% of your fellow Americans believe it’s high time for new leadership. So, please vote, pick wisely, and most important of all, please remember we are all on the same team!

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