Obenski column: This divided house can still stand

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Remember those words of Abraham Lincoln from 1858? Our nation was divided then, slave versus free and agrarian South versus industrial North. The disagreement was so fierce that we had a real war over it, with bombs and bullets, over 300,000 dead. The side that won did not vanquish the losers, instead “bound up the nations wounds.” Maybe the first time in history that reparations were not foremost in the victors’ mind. The prototype for the Marshall Plan. We are a nation divided, again.

During external wars we seemed to come together, but even then there are objectors, not always conscientious. We remained a nation divided, though, in many ways. The temperance movement against demon rum lead to prohibition, an internal war, dividing those who abhorred drunkenness from those who enjoyed a drink. Government tried to enforce an unpopular law creating an opportunity that lead to organized crime. It was a law so unsuccessful that the 18th Amendment that permitted it was soon repealed by the 23rd.


Proving that government does not learn from history the equally unsuccessful war on drugs persists until today. Some states have passed feckless laws against safe abortion driving women to risky alternatives.

Segregated versus integrated. It was not until 1948 that President Truman integrated the Armed Forces, before that, for almost 100 years, “colored” enlisted served under white officers. Schools in the South, that is the formerly Confederate states and beyond, remained segregated until the Warren Court declared “separate but equal” inherently un-equal and unconstitutional in Brown vs Board of education, 1954.

The segregated South clung to their principals, and hatred. We were still a house divided, yet the strength of the US Constitution has held a nation together in spite of regional differences. Jim Crow laws in those states held “colored” people in second class for many years. In some southern backwaters they still do, but slowly we are getting over a separation of rights that is as old as biology. There are invertebrates that enslave other invertebrates: It’s not just humans.

Just as humans feel superior to livestock, some humans feel superior to other humans. It is obvious that some people are smarter or better looking, more talented or more athletic than others, but it is impossible to reliably attach those attributes to some other characteristic like skin color, or ancestry.

The Communist scare and accusations of the post war period divided us as much as the current administration. Roy Cohn was one of the background players to the divisive McCarthy hearings. Cohn was Sen. Joe McCarthy’s lawyer and is a role model for today’s right extreme. Just as that started to heal, the Vietnam War divided us again, mostly on generational or educational lines through four or five presidencies. The generation gap portrayed in “All In The Family” is still evident in red versus blue state politics. Educated young elite versus working class, versus 1%. Draft-dodgers moving to Canada and Kent State student elite versus the National Guard.

We have become divided into red state /blue state, left/right, liberal/conservative in ways that do not coincide with definitions. Liberals and conservatives are each expected to stand up for their faction’s platform whether they in good conscience really agree. Overturning Supreme Court decisions (e.g. Roe v Wade) is not consistent with traditional conservatism. Socialism is not consistent with traditional liberal freedom values. Reasonable people form their own opinions issue by issue, not agree all or nothing with a package concocted by a distant committee.


Compared to our embarrassing past, the division over the tenant in the White House, or red state versus blue state is barely a footnote in future history books. Just as a hammer dropped on one’s toe makes everything else uninteresting, this will pass, if we don’t let it dominate our thoughts, do anything drastic, or accept it as the new normal.

Ken Obesnki is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona who writes a biweekly column for West Hawaii Today. Send feedback to obenskik@gmail.com.