INDIANAPOLIS — Consider this fair warning: I’m about to sound like a crotchety old man.
That’s because I’ve got to ask a crotchety old man’s question: Just at what point did we become a nation of whiny spoiled brats who dissolve into temper tantrums every time something doesn’t go our way?
In the days since the election that brought Barack Obama back to the White House for a second term, deep thinkers in at least 40 states, including Indiana, have started petition drives to secede from the union.
Many of these folks are the same ones who have been bitterly opposed to Obama from the moment he got elected. They have resented and resisted all insinuations that racial considerations — the fact that we have a black man in the White House for the first time in our history — might play a part in the bitterness of their opposition. They’re not bigots, they assure us.
Adopting the same approach that slaveholders in the South took as they led America toward what still is the bloodiest civil war in human history might not be the best way to convince us of that.
Then there’s the mental giant who owns a restaurant franchise — I won’t besmirch an entire chain’s reputation because of one person’s short-sightedness — who wants to impose an “Obamacare surtax” on all of his customer’s purchases. As a business model, that probably leaves something to be desired because his policy tells everyone who doesn’t agree with him politically to dine somewhere else.
But it’s also a curious kind of political statement. If we accept his argument, such as it is, that he gets to use all transactions to register disapproval over a public policy decision that he doesn’t like, he also opens the door to customers using the same argument by withholding payment to protest tax incentives that businesses routinely get that they don’t approve of. Every transaction becomes a political debate.
I’ve focused my fire so far on the right and extreme conservatives because they lost this time around. But we have the same problem on the left.
In 2004, when George W. Bush won re-election, liberals didn’t threaten to secede, but they wanted to migrate to Canada. We heard much the same braying this time from those on the left when they considered that Mitt Romney actually might win.
Right now, America behaves much like an enormous day care center in which control of the intercom has been handed over to the toddlers.
We live in a nation whose discourse is dominated by the tea party and MoveOn.org, two strident factions who see rational discussion and negotiation with people who aren’t in complete agreement with them as a betrayal of principle and a fundamental character flaw.
The rest of us just call it maturity.
The basic course of American history is not that difficult to comprehend.
Sometimes, the country drifts too far to the right and there is a correction from the left. Sometimes, the country drifts too far to the left and there is a correction from the right. The pull almost inevitably is back toward the center.
This is as it should be.
The brilliance of the founders of this country wasn’t just that they valued freedom but that they created a framework that preserved freedom.
They did this in a country that, even then, was more diverse and had more differing opinions than any other nation on Earth not by elevating one set of interests above another, but by establishing a system that balanced interests against each other.
The founders recognized, as we should now, that most interests were valid and deserved whatever accommodation resources and circumstance allowed. They wanted a system in which rational human beings engaged in discussion, negotiation and, yes, compromise in regard to preserving or advancing their interests.
In short, they wanted a nation of adults, not one of whiny toddlers.
A century ago, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats famously warned that “the center cannot hold.”
Much of the glory of the American experiment is that the center has held, despite more than two centuries of tumult, upheaval and challenges.
That’s because, for the most part, we’ve seen setbacks as an opportunity to get back to work, and not just another chance to throw a temper tantrum.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.