“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
We’re all familiar with that statement, uttered by Abraham Lincoln as the United States hurtled toward civil war, a statement that Lincoln himself took from the New Testament.
There’s no denying that the United States is again a nation divided. It’s not just major public policy matters that are politicized, it’s everything. Even a worldwide health crisis has become a cause of division, with the simple acts of wearing a mask or getting a vaccine becoming hotly contested polarizing causes.
It’s bad enough that some of these divisions stem from some of the same issues that have divided the United States since its founding: Race, disagreements over the role of government, and regulation of individual rights.
But what makes today’s divisiveness even more dangerous is that many leaders of the Republican Party, including and especially Donald Trump and his most fervent supporters like Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland’s First Congressional District, have embraced division as a political strategy. They cynically seek every opportunity to pit their “us” against a multitude of “thems,” to brand those who question them as “enemies of the people,” to label honest disagreements as “war,” and to attack, belittle, bully, and destroy. They want us to be divided, because division makes their supporters feel threatened and motivated to vote for them. If Wall Street tycoons believed in the creed that “greed is good” because it helped them make money, then many of today’s Republican politicians and their high-paid strategists operate by the principle that “division is better” because it helps to keep them in power.
And that brings us to Steve Bannon.
Bannon is the Republican political and media operative who, before he became Trump’s top political adviser, ran Breitbart, one of the most contentious, provocative, and divisive of the alt-right media. Bannon has said that “[a]nger and fear is what gets people to the polls.” He has pushed extreme nationalist and anti-immigrant policies. His Twitter account was permanently suspended after he suggested that Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded. His has remained in close connection with some of the same alt-right groups that organized the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Indeed, on the eve of the attack, Bannon broadcast that “all hell is going to break loose” at the Jan. 6 protests. And as we now know, it did. But how did Bannon know what would happen in advance?
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack wants to talk with Bannon. They want to know what he knew, when he knew it, and who else he was talking to, including Trump. These are all legitimate grounds of inquiry for an attack that claimed lives, saw our seat of government overrun by mob rule, and threatened one of our most important democratic institutions – the election process.
But Bannon refuses. So the House, including with the support of several Republicans, has voted to hold him in contempt of Congress, and last week he was indicted on charges of criminal contempt. Was Bannon contrite? No. On the contrary, he paraded into court defiant, bringing his own camera crew to record the event, which he will no doubt post all over his media sites to rile his audience and raise money for himself and his extremist causes. Controversy, anger, and division are good business for Bannon, which he cynically exploits for himself and his Republican allies.
Jan. 6 was an example of how divisiveness can lead to violence that can destroy a nation. Bannon and anyone else who may have encouraged, fomented, and even supported that kind of violent action need to be held accountable.
Lincoln predicted what would happen when a house remained divided.
We need to stop those who for the sake of political gain would recklessly promote division to the point of violence before it happens again.
Dave Harden is a candidate for Congress in MD First District