When is the last time you used the word “schism?” Oh, it’s not in your daily vocabulary. Well, since we’re living in one it should be.
The Macmillan online dictionary provides this etymology: “The noun schism comes ultimately from a Greek word meaning ‘rent’ or ‘cleft’. It came into Middle English in the 14th century, originally referring to division in the Christian church. The more general meaning came later in the 15th century….Schism is more commonly used nowadays to refer to political splits. A corpus search shows that schisms are frequently said to be ‘precipitated’ or ‘provoked’ by a particular event. They are frequently 'widened' or ‘deepened’ but sometimes they can be ‘mended’, ‘bridged’, or ‘healed’.”
We have been living in an ever widening and deepening schism personified by the vitriol between the left and the right, exemplified by the growing gaps between the rich and the middle class and poor, and impelled by the predators who profit from division. Are we doomed to continue riding this destructive spiral into anarchy, or does one of those rare “sometimes” loom to mend, bridge, and heal?
The inauguration events last week proffered hope for healing. There were Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republican leaders attending church with incoming President Joe Biden, incoming Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other Democratic leaders. There were former Presidents George W. Bush, Barrack Obama, and Bill Clinton calling for unity. There were hints of the same as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made gift presentations to incoming President Joe Biden.
And there was Biden’s propitiatory inaugural address in which he said, “To restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words, it requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy, unity.” Noting that “politics doesn't have to be a raging fire,” he said, “Let’s begin to listen to one another again, hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another.”
Such respect was demonstrated by Pence by attending the inauguration, applauding during Biden’s speech, and his and wife Karen’s graciousness with new Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff.
The iconic American tradition set forth in our Constitution for the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next sets the stage for such behavior. But will it last? We’ve had glimpses of such American camaraderie in the past, but they did not long survive. It will depend upon the courage of political leaders to seek unity in the face of demands for domination and dissent by the extremists of their parties.
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension ... is itself a frightful despotism,” said our first and greatest President George Washington in his farewell address.
Can we overcome bitter dissention to bridge our schism? The warm and joyful relationship we saw between George Bush and Michelle Obama suggested we can.
The ya-ya started back the next day.
“Love your enemies, do good to them” – Luke 6:35.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.