- Hypocrisy, as Francois de la Rochefoucauld said, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. And the pretense of virtue is often better than no virtue at all, even if it means one must work harder to unearth the vice. There is hypocrisy in the outcry over the polarization and violence afflicting U.S. society, as if violence in America is something new, and as if the current levels are comparable to those during previous chapters of American history. The U.S. is polarized, true – but not nearly so much as it has been at other, more dire moments in its history. The country’s current divisions are not primarily about race, religion, gender or any other hot-button cultural issue. These rifts have always been present in the U.S., and the country will never be rid of its original sins. (There’s also a case to be made that they have never been less present than they are today.) Pretending a single man is responsible for these demons is not only intellectually lazy, it is simply incorrect.
The deeper malaise in U.S. society stems from class divisions. Economic policies have exacerbated wealth inequalities and, in turn, created political disillusionment that has transformed traditional U.S. political parties beyond recognition into forces incapable of governing for the good of the nation and content to govern for the affirmation of the mob. The United States endured similar periods of polarization and social crisis during Reconstruction and before the Great Depression and became stronger for them. The main difference now is that the country has never dealt with such a large problem while also carrying such high levels of debt and so much international responsibility.