Aug. 19, 2020

History lessons from the great divide

History lessons from the great divide

Enough already! As if a pandemic, looming economic disaster, racial and civil unrest, and political division weren’t enough, there is talk in some circles about a second civil war. Clearly we're in uncharted territory. Is it possible that what we learned all those years ago in high school history and government classes might come in handy after all? This week's guest, Steve Steinbach, current high school history and government teacher and former trial attorney, looks back at our past, examines our present and gives his take on what might lie in our future. Spoiler alert: all is not lost.

At the end of the episode we talk about the poem Let America be America Again, by Langston Hughes. Though it was written in 1936, it couldn't be more relevant if it had been written today. Here's a link to the whole poem:

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The theme music is Fragilistic by Ketsa
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Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 0:00What we are witnessing now is making a history.

Kelley Lynch: 0:03Maybe it's kind of like the making of sausage. One of those things that none of us wants to see, except for Cindy, Cindy, have you had enough of living through history yet?

Cindy Sealls: 0:18I think I've had a lifetime in the last eight months because I've lived through what seems to be headed towards another great depression, the possibility of a contested presidential election. Although I have lived through that before, not like this , uh, the civil rights movement with people protesting for that, the protest against police brutality in the sixties, the political polarization of the 1850s and the 1960s. And now the possibility or belief among some that we're headed toward another civil war. All at the same time.

Kelley Lynch: 1:03You forgot the pandemic.

Cindy Sealls: 1:05Oh, and all this other stuff. I forgot all about that. It's like , I can't even remember all this stuff. [inaudible] Hi, I'm Cindy seals. Welcome to a new normal a podcast about how we're adapting to life during the pandemic and where we go from here. Our guest today is Steve Steinbach. Steve has been teaching us history and American government to high school students for the past 15 years before beginning his teaching career, Steve spent over 20 years as a trial lawyer, litigating civil and criminal cases. We asked Steve to put on his sepia colored glasses to help us see this country and this moment more clearly. We hope that looking back at history might offer lessons about how we can work together rather than tear each other apart. Steve Steinbach welcome to the podcast.

Steve Steinbach: 2:15Great to be here.

Cindy Sealls: 2:17I guess my first question or first kind of statement is these times that we're going through right now are very unusual, extraordinary times of having a health disaster, a lot of political dissension and just a bit of racial unrest to top it all off. One of the big issues has been this, this idea of trying to control the spread of the Corona virus, the public, having to wear mask . And how can there be this much controversy over something that seems so simple?

Steve Steinbach: 3:03Yeah, that's a, that's a fascinating question to start with because you would think it would be simple. Um, I actually, I would say this was a couple months ago when , um, some of the communities across the country were thinking about whether it postmaster requirements or not. I listen pretty carefully to a city council debate that was going on in a smallish town in the country , uh, that happened to be online. And I heard some very interesting arguments. People saying requiring masks is against freedoms, guaranteed in the constitution to act like the Chinese government. If we don't respect individual rights in this country, we'll end up burning ourselves down to the ground, like what's going on in Venezuela. And since we've had lots of, you know , lawsuits from bars and gyms and churches over closures, those are understandable, I think, to most people because they involve dollars and cents. You wouldn't want your business closed if you can somehow run it safely. But we've also seen individuals purposely defy mask orders - oppose them politically, but then defy them once they've been mandated, which affects, you would think. An individual's own health and also the health of those he or she interacts with. So what's going on here? I started to think, how can we explain this? Um , so I stepped back and I think it's important to give people who feel this way, and it could be you and me or our listeners who feel this way, what's a good what's the underlying justification here. More . I thought about it. Two fundamental principles I think are coming into play. The first is Liberty and whatever one thinks of the mask debate Liberty is obviously an exceedingly important principle. We, none of us want the police barging into our homes in the middle of the night without warrants. Um, none of us want the government to say what religion we should practice. None of us want the government to tell us how to raise our kids. And so Liberty, and I say, this is as a citizen, as well as someone who's studied history, Liberty is a bedrock of our country and it goes all the way back to the Declaration of Independence. But like with all rights, the question arises, where do you draw the line? When is government action too much? When does it cross the line and infringe on our liberties? And when it comes to the rubber hitting the road like that, people don't always agree. I remember a generation ago, but before your times, I'm sure that , there was a debate over whether seatbelts could be required and you still hear from time to time, people who ride motorcycles complaining about laws that require them to wear helmets and more the controversy over Obamacare. Can you force me, can the government force me to buy health insurance if I'm healthy and I don't want to spend the money. We had these kinds of debates all the time. What is helpful sometimes is to think of that when we talking about the government imposing things in this country, at least in theory, we are the government. I mean, we, the people make decisions, the majority through our elected representatives, but we also, at the same time, know that the majority can act oppressively against individuals. And so I think the debate over masks reflects a really important, larger tension in the country's history. And that's the importance of liberty and the constraints placed on individual Liberty by collective action. The second thought I have about this mass controversy has to do with another important core principle and that's federalism. And that's a distinctive and a very important factor of American government. The idea that we have local control. And that's something that would strike, I suspect, a Chinese visitor, or even a French visitor to our country, as somewhat bizarre that so much power is held not by the national government, but by States and by local entities. In fact, you know, there's 50 States. We all know that, but there's almost 90,000 local government entities, everything from school boards to health , public health authorities, to your water commissioner. And normally that's good. We want local control over education. The same laws couldn't possibly apply to city dwellers and farmers. And all of this allows us to experiment. If something works in Wisconsin, we'll copy it. If it doesn't work, you know, well, that was Wisconsin's mistake. We don't have to get trapped. And then, you know, because we think differently in this country, people in Nebraska don't have to have the same laws as people in Massachusetts. So all of that is really healthy and an important feature of our country, but it leads to great potential for chaos. And we can all recall, you know, 10, 15 years ago, Hurricane Katrina, who was in charge? Was it the national government? Was it FEMA? Or is it the state? Is it new Orleans? And there was a lot of chaos and tragedy as a result of that confusion. And so I read something in Atlantic magazine, which I haven't verified, but I assume was accurate that there are more than 2,600 state local and tribal public health agencies and departments in this country. That's 2,600 different sources of decision making about COVID and masks and quarantines and everything else. And , uh, I think, you know , you can see the recipe for chaos there , which we've seen play out over the past few months. Sorry, long winded answer to your question, but I think the debate at bottom over masks re reflects really important principles. Tensions over liberty and federalism, which are ordinarily good values, but they're playing out in a life and death context, which is at a minimum interesting and beyond that can be very important to people's lives.

Cindy Sealls: 9:42Are these times that we're living through now, are they any different? Are there other extraordinary times in the past that can inform us about how this is all going to play out ultimately?

Steve Steinbach: 9:53One way to think about that is to go back to January 1st when you're popping the champagne or whatever. I doubt if there's anyone that you were talking to at the time who predicted what we've been going through the six or seven months after that. I mean, this has been an extraordinary year and if you kind of go over events one by one, none of them are unprecedented. I mean, we started, if you think about how we started the year with impeachment it's hard to remember that way back in January. But you know, we've had that before. We've had two presidents go through impeachment trials , Andrew Johnson and 1868 and bill Clinton in 1999. So that we've been there, done that. COVID , we've read a lot about the 19, 19 Spanish , uh , influenza, which some people think originally originated in, in Kansas of all places. The Spanish virus , you could have called the Kansas virus, but in any event, it resulted in tens of millions of deaths worldwide and in the United States , 600,000 or so. So in that sense , the pandemic is not brand new to this country. We've had a remarkable economic collapse in the year 2020. That's not new either. You can all remember 2008. And , then far more significantly in 1929, the great depression begins with the stock market collapse. The past few months have witnessed extraordinary events involving civil rights. Demands for racial justice concerns about police injustice that were precipitated by the death of George Floyd. That hearkens us back to the civil rights era of the 1950s and the 1960s in this country. And then, you know, cross your fingers, knock on wood, there is the possibility of a contested presidential election this fall. And if that happens, not that anyone should wish for that, but if that happens, that would be far from a first we've had contested presidential elections as early as 1800, a very significant contested presidential election in 1876. We know that 2000 Bush versus Gore went to the Supreme court. So all of this has happened before in that sense. What's truly extraordinary is that all of this is going on at the same time. Generations from now, when people have my job teaching United States history, I think they're going to be devoting considerable time to the year 2020, because all of this is playing out also in the context, which we'll get to I suspect of polarization and government dysfunction and all of these crises at once. I mean, it can be overwhelming to read the newspaper, to watch something on television, and it gives rise to legitimate concerns among people of good faith about whether the country can survive all of this. Are we on the verge of a national crack up? Will the center hold, or are we potentially facing some kind of defining crisis?

Cindy Sealls: 13:34Does looking at history, Give us any insight into where we are today and how we can find a way forward?

Steve Steinbach: 13:45Well, you're, you're talking to someone who teaches history. So , I have a vested interest in saying yes to that. Um, but yes, this is I think the answer, but a qualified yes, because history is backward looking and historians are the last people who could predict the future. Maybe I shouldn't say last economists aren't very good at it, or they'd all be all be wealthy. And as I said earlier, no one at the start of this year could have predicted anywhere near the potential crisis as we currently face. So, I may be the last person to sort of say where all this will lead, but, and that, I think raises a good question. So what's the point of history? Why do we even study or talk about the past? It's not like when we have a crisis, we dig out our history textbooks and say, okay, here's the recipe. But there are some uses of a historical perspective in thinking about our current or any difficult times. To some extent, I think we do learn from history and not maybe in the classic sense that those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it, that kind of thing. But we do earn , um, we are speaking today , uh, in the midst of the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I think it's fair to say that we as a nation , we as a world community, again, knock on wood, had learned some lessons from that. And that may be at least one explanation as to despite the potential terrors of all these nuclear weapons that they have not been deployed for 75 years. The economic crisis of 2008 and the current economic crisis, we've learned some lessons from the great depression. The federal reserve is much more skilled about liquidity and money supply than it was in the 1930s. And so in that sense, we've learned some lessons. I think history can also give us some comfort, some sense that we've been there before we've been in worse or difficult times and we've gotten through them. We can talk about some examples eventually. So that helps in terms of perspective. And I think history or the study of history or thinking about history can help us reveal our strengths, our strengths as a nation, what Lincoln called our better angels. And so , while history is not a roadmap to how to solve all our problems , um, it does help put our problems in perspective in a way that actually could encourage us to be better and to deal with the problems at hand.

Cindy Sealls: 16:45You spoke about history and the importance of that. And one of the issues is that people don't believe the history that they're reading or they believe different narratives. There's, there's different narratives of what, about what history says or who wrote the history and whether we should believe that history. How do you figure out even as a historian, what to believe, what is truth or what is true and what, or what is not true when you read history?

Steve Steinbach: 17:16Well, that's a really important perspective to bring on any discussion of history. There are certain facts and certain truths. The declaration of independence was in 1776. But that there are a host of perspectives on history and what constitutes history. We're constantly being exposed to the voices of people who have not played a big role in presentation of our country's history. And so what goes into the making of history, the narrative of history, those can be very controversial. There's no question in that sense, you know, there is no perceived or agreed upon historical truth, which complicates the use of history in any sort of discussion of the past and thinking about how that affects the present. No doubt about that. And I think the question you raised is of particular concern in recent times because we see it even in our own , current events. Setting aside the history of the past, what's going on just on a day to day basis. There is a sense out there, and the sense may be accurate that people have different truths and different facts. And all of that very much has led to polarization in this country and complicates, for sure, the sense of how we can examine the past in order to help us with the present. N o d oubt. It's important to the extent possible to agree on at least what happened. Whether what happened was good or bad is subject to debate. Of course, whether I'm a statue of someone new participated in events in the past should remain or not can be a matter of opinion. But what that person did and the context in which that person operated should be less at least of a struggle factually. And that's what historians try to clarify. Let me, let me think about it this way, I've heard it said it's not simply in Covid times in the past few months, but even in the past few years, that we're on the verge of some sort of new civil war. That we had a civil war, and we're about to do it again , um, you know, red versus blue, or however you want to , however you want to characterize it, liberals versus conservatives. And so, when you think about something like that , one response is to actually think about the civil war, which this country flawed from 1860 to 1865. And without too much controversy, one can come up with some elements that led to that civil war and then one can ask or do we have similar divisions nowadays? So if you put yourself back the 1850s, there were in this country, fundamental geographic divisions between the Northern States and the Southern States. There were fundamental economic divisions between the Southern economy based on enslaved labor. Not that the Northern economy wasn't because of banking and shipping and insurance, but to a far lesser extent. There were fundamental moral divisions between the slaveocracy and the abolitionists, for instance, and there were fundamental political divisions between the pro-slavery Democrats and the, well, it's not quite fair to say anti-slavery Republicans, but the Republicans at least didn't want the expansion of slavery into the territories. So you had geographic economic, moral, and political divisions, and they all perfectly aligned with each other and for decades and decades, going back to the constitutional convention, the political process had been unable to bridge the divide over this single issue. So all of that resulted obviously in a civil war. I think you would be hard pressed defined those sort of geographic economic, moral, and political divisions that aligned so perfectly to bring about civil or number two in our time . And just a couple other thoughts, what also made civil war possible back then is a lack of a strong central authority. The States had far more power than they do now. A lack of a sense of nationhood. The people were far more loyal to their individual States than they are now . And the fact that those States, those political entities already existed and could form a sort of new rival power base to the United States government. All of that, I think helps explain why the constitution broke, why the country went to war against itself. It led to 750,000 deaths, but also 4 million Americans becoming free. So one can debate whether that was good or not, but what one can't really debate or the sort of forces that led to the civil war. And then you and I may differ, or others may differ on where we go from here, but at least my conclusion from that is for all our current divisions in this country, we are nowhere close to what we went through in the 1850s. At least I believe in at least I hope. But that's maybe one again in the long winded way that we can focus on what happened. And then we may disagree on what it means, but there's a little sort of core of , of a shared historical fact , um , that that can be useful in sort of assessing where we are at. Despite my own sense that we're not on the verge of a total rupture, there's plenty of reasons to be worried about the state of our democracy. I mean, to state the obvious, nothing lasts forever. Franklin Roosevelt in his first inaugural address says This great nation will endure. It will revive and prosper. Well, it's all due respect that name necessarily. So just cause we've lasted 230 something years under the constitution doesn't guarantee you will last 230 more months. That's one of the lessons of history that nothing lasts forever. And one could paint regardless of your perspective, and you don't have to be a Republican or a Democrat or a liberal conservative or socialist. One could paint some very troubling concerns about our current sort of political crisis. We have pretty extreme partisan divisions within this country. I don't think we're at the North versus the South. Um , but we are divided fundamentally by ideology. About half of the country thinks we should have a bigger government. And about half of the country thinks we should have a smaller government and never the twain shall meet. Um , and that's reflected obviously in blue and red States, but it's reflected in urban areas versus rural areas. It's reflected in what neighborhoods we live in and what schools we send our kids to, what news sources we read or watch who our friends are, who we choose to marry. People have debated the cause of all of this, but politically we are very divided. There's no denying that. And I think there's no denying, as a result of that. There are some pretty important issues that are piling up bread and butter issues like infrastructure, most of which was built during the New Deal and lots of which is falling apart before our eyes. I'm not sure that's a partisan issue. Um, but to the extent that we're partisanly divided, it's harder to address that issue. Social security , because of demographic changes unconnected to liberals or conservatives, people are living longer, there are fewer workers. Social security is projected to run out of money. We have to deal with that. It's hard to deal with that in a polarized divided government. The national debt I just checked this morning is now $27 trillion, $81,000 per citizen. And that doesn't count your mortgage or your credit card or your student loan debt. And then there are other issues out there , even, you know , maybe tougher guns, climate change, inequality. And then just like, why couldn't we thought about the pandemic? We're going to be asking ourselves the same things about down the road about why weren't we more prepared for artificial intelligence or genetic engineering or cloning. And so there's a concern that if our political system is polarized and divided and broken, that we won't be able to address these sort of fundamental problems of the future. And I don't want to pile on, but beyond that, even though we've been divided in the past, there's some wild cards out there and you have to ask, will they make things differently? There are lots of guns and lots of private paramilitary groups. There is a very strong central state authority system. We've that recently in Portland. We have the social media, which is stirring up dissent and discord. And as we talked about earlier, to some extent, there is a breakdown of what is, what is truth. And so all of that, I don't mean to sound alarmist. In fact, my own view is more optimistic than what I've just sketched, but it's caused, I think to be fair, a good number of people to lose faith in our system, both our democratic system of self government and maybe our economic system of market capitalism. And you can see that in book titles that are, you know , on your shelves, assuming we ever go back to a bookstore or a library, How democracies die, The death of truth. Why nations fail? Can it happen here? I mean, those are all titles. You don't have to read the books to get the gist and you can see it in public opinion polls about the loss of faith people have in either our parties or our leaders or the mainstream media or the economy. And so , yeah, country's divided and all of that is reason for concern.

Cindy Sealls: 29:19Your view is more optimistic despite all of those concerns that you have, give us, you know, your optimistic viewpoint.

Steve Steinbach: 29:30At the end of this, it may seem like a little tail wagging a great big dog, but I am cautiously optimistic, I think for a couple of reasons. First, and maybe this is because I teach American government, I remain a believer in our political system. Not everyone believes in that political system, but I still have am of the view that the vast majority of Americans do. That's our constitution, checks and balances, separation of powers, our political liberties, freedom of speech, the right to vote, the right to serve on juries. I have faith in our institutions, Lord knows not every day and not all the time, but especially our courts, u h, especially our press. One of the things this country has had historically are defining elections, u h, where things c hange for a generation. I'm not predicting that, but we have gone through back and forth and back and forth. I mean, what, we've gone from Bush to Clinton back to Bush, back to Obama, and now Trump. So we've had a generation of oscillating, but it's very narrow m ajorities, but we've also in this country, had a landslide defining elections, which h ave given us enough of a percentage majority that things actually can change. And I guess, deep down and people can certainly disagree with me here. Um, especially given our history, but deep down, I have faith in the basic goodness of we, the people, not everyone, not all the time, but at least most of us, most of the time trying. So these may not be normal times, but I think we'll get back to normal times or at least I want to believe that. Or at least I hope I'm not wrong. The second kind of reason I have for optimism is because I teach United States history. And the more you think about where we are, the more you can say, we've been here before we have had periods of intense political partisanship and gridlock. The 1790s people don't talk about 1790s very much. Our country was brand new. Hadn't even had its 10th birthday yet and we had such fundamental divisions between two political parties, neither of which had been conceived when the constitution was written. The Federalist party, which was in control of the government and the Republican party, the democratic Republican party. We had such divisions in the 1790s that Congress led by the Federalist and Federalist president, John Adams passed something called the Sedition act, which criminalized criticism of the government. Criminalized it to the point where leading political opponents from the Republican party were prosecuted and jailed for their dissent over government policies. I mean, those were intense partisan times. There was genuine doubt whether the country would survive the contested election of 1800. This was long before the Supreme court started emphasizing the importance of freedom of speech and the right to disagree with your government. And we've had partisan divisions in the 1820s and the 1850s, obviously , leading to the civil war. The 1880s, lots of very in a blue state red state kind of equivalent. You could predict which States in the 1880s were going to vote Democratic and which States were going to vote Republican. And, you know , it always came down to just a handful that swung the balance of power, a very closely divided partisan nation. And then, you know, you've mentioned already the 1950s and the 1960s people who lived there in 1968, thought the country was falling apart with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the violence at the Chicago national convention and the racial unrest in the country. And we've also had other crises that have looked insurmountable slavery, the civil war, the great depression, segregation, Vietnam, Watergate, and back to FDR. Despite all of that, we've survived, we've endured we've prospered. And so when you look back at the span of American history, you can say to yourself, and again, I realize not everyone would agree with this, but I think at least I say to myself, we have not without struggle, obtained more Liberty in this country. And we have, not without struggle, attained more equality. We've never had a religious war. We've never had a military coup. We've never fallen into authoritarian or dictatorship. We've always elected our leaders. We've always had peaceful transitions of power. Nothing is inevitable. Nothing is inevitable. The past doesn't guarantee the future, but at least if history is any guide , I think we'll get through this. And once again, I hope I'm not wrong.

Cindy Sealls: 35:40There's a narrative out there in some circles that American students are being taught to hate America as a U S history and government teacher. What do you say to that?

Steve Steinbach: 35:55I think, honestly , if you look at your own individual lives and you were to, you know , say the story of yourself, you'll be proud of certain things you had done and not so proud of others. All of us are flawed creatures. And I think to some extent you that's what , how you have to view American history. You can teach it through a lens of pure evil, we've done nothing, right? And you can teach it through the opposite lens to glorify the founders and minimize problems in American history. And I think in the end, each person draws its own their own opinion. And as a teacher at least, I view, some people disagree with this, I view my role as providing enough information for students to draw their own conclusions. But I just don't think it does a service to the past, to glorify American exceptionalism or to spend your whole time condemning our failures.

Cindy Sealls: 37:14America has long been known as the melting pot of the world that has been perceived as the source of our strength and our prosperity. Now it seems that some people believe that diversity is a liability to our country. What do you think about that?

Steve Steinbach: 37:35Yeah, let me think about that in terms of immigration and then a little bit more broadly. Immigration is long, long, long been a divisive issue in American history. Way back in the 1790s, which I've mentioned, one of the things that we did at the same time we passed the Sedition Law was to pass something called an Alien Act, which was specifically aimed at people who a re coming from France, who w ere i n our country. We've had attacks on Irish Catholics, 1830s. I mean, physical attacks as well as attempts to exclude or attempts to prevent them from becoming citizens 1830s t o the 1850s. And there were anti-immigration societies formed in the late 1800s in the early 1900s. Congress passed, in the 1880s, the Chinese exclusion act, which prevented any new immigration from China and also made it impossible for any Chinese already in the country to ever become citizens. We expanded that in the 1920s to include Asians of all nationalities, not just the Chinese. In the 1920s, we pass a very restrictive immigration law that gave great preference to people from Northwest Europe and made it almost impossible for anyone from Southeast Europe, much less than the rest of the world to enter the country. Some of that changed in the 1960s, but we've been fighting immigration battles for our entire country's history, because there , I think this divide that isn't going to be magically solved as to what this nation should look like. I do want to say one other sort of bigger picture of thought here. This goes all the way back and this is a little, maybe too much political theory, but all the way back to the, when people were trying to structure our government, the constitution and set up a Republic. A Republic is basically in a hole where will people govern themselves through elected representatives. Well, how do you do that? And traditionally the thought was, well, you can only be a Republican. Everybody's kind of like has the same values. Everyone in my community is sort of like me and we can all get along and do the right thing and then we'll have a successful Republic. But that's not what our country was and that's certainly not what our country is. We have all kinds of different viewpoints. Um, think about religion, a host of different organizations that people believe in and belong to. And so very early on , James Madison, one of his Federalist essays, sort of turn things on their heads and said, no, the best way to run a country has not. If everybody thinks alike on a small scale. The best way to run a country has is big picture and have so many different disagreements and points of view that no single majority can emerge. We have so many different religions that you're not going to have one religion outlaw the other and you can do the same thing with sort of economics and political viewpoints. Now that's a theory, obviously it didn't help us avoid the civil war, but it does kind of give us some comfort that we can disagree about lots and lots of things in this country, but can still live together within a system that's built or designed to take that into account.

Cindy Sealls: 41:42There are concerns on the right and the left about a slide into authoritarianism. Can you speak to that concern?

Steve Steinbach: 41:55I mean, what would an authoritarian government look like? It would essentially, it would be a system where the government pretty much told people what they could and could not do as opposed to at least in theory what our government is. We, the people , tell the government what to do. Um, and to get a little bit more in particular, you would be talking about a government that takes away individual rights, or maybe certain points of view are suppressed. And all of that accompanied through force. I mean, you know, you can see this in many other nations around the globe. Will we come to that point? Um, let's hope not. What can we do to not come to that point? I think, and as I said before, nothing is inevitable, but I think we've done the best we can in terms of setting up a system that makes that difficult to achieve, because we have lots of different power centers in this country. We have States that push back against the national government and vice versa. Um, we have courts that tell our elected leaders, they cannot do certain things. They want that courts that tell the majority of us voted for something. No, that's inconsistent with our fundamental liberties. We have a free press that, you know, maybe maybe divided and may not be universally loved, but speaks truth to power. We ourselves speak truth to power when we vote, when we serve on juries. So all of those are institutional answers. None of that has to last forever, but as long as those institutions remain and we do our best as citizens to keep them healthy, there's little bit more reason to see a silver lining in what might otherwise be viewed as a dark cloud.

Cindy Sealls: 44:13Another common narrative is that we are more polarized than we have been in a long, long time, if that is true, how can we move forward if so many of us are on the political extremes?

Steve Steinbach: 44:34Well, I think first, it helps to , um , kind of put things in perspective, I think. I would at least view what's going on now on both sides as this is almost in terms of a bell curve , where there are certainly extremes about the extremes are less numerous in terms of , you know, the amount of actual support they have, then maybe the airtime that they get. And where there is still , in the middle of the bell curve, the bulk of , some concerned people going through some very difficult times in terms of COVID in terms of the economy, in terms of our divided politics, but for the most part, committed to the sort of core values that have defined the nation, as opposed to whatever the goals or fears of, of the extremes might be. And I think it's important or helpful to sort of, if you place yourself somewhere on that concern middle to think what can I do or what should we do to, to somehow pull ourselves together to get through this and to make sure that neither extreme is victorious. And part of that is, you know, from a history government teacher , it would be nice to spend more time and more effort in this country on civics education. I get it. Math is important, so is science, but we have devalued, sadly, our discussions and the amount of time we spend in the classroom on these important questions, which ultimately I think we need to govern ourselves. I think it's also important for people in the middle who are worried about extremism of either side to reach out and try to understand the views of people who disagree with them. There's some practical ways of doing that. You can force yourself to read two different points of view. Read the Wall Street Journal and the New York times every day , or watch MSNBC and Fox back and forth. Actively seek out people you disagree with politically and have conversations with them, try to find common ground. Another sort of thought is, I think, the more you delve into issues, they're much harder and they're much more complex and they're gray, not black and white and those two things. And so trying to, even if you have a profound point of view, and maybe even if you end up at that profound point of view, you're better off, I think, trying to analyze the weaknesses of your position and where other people are coming from, and maybe focusing a bit more on compromise. Thomas Jefferson said once a half of half a loaf is better than no bread and so keeping an open mind on issues as opposed to sort of knee jerk, I know what I think. I know t hey're dead wrong. To think of people w ho disagree with you as adversaries and opponents, good words, u m, and not enemies, bad word. We shouldn't have enemies in this country. We should have good faith adversaries. And then I guess my final thought as a teacher of all this stuff, talking to kids in classrooms is that if we truly believe what it says at the beginning of the constitution, we, the people, now you can argue that that's a fiction, et cetera, but if we truly believe it or want it to be reality, even if we kind of think it might be a fiction, we are the people we are the government. And that means all of us are obligated to read, to volunteer, to contribute, to participate, to serve on juries, to vote. It's our government and just like it's our home and our family, our school, we should try to make it the best we can through our own hard work.

Cindy Sealls: 49:00Well, Steve, thank you so very much for speaking with us.

Steve Steinbach: 49:04Thank you for asking me and more importantly, thank you for doing your podcast .

Kelley Lynch: 49:20Hi guys. It's nice to all be together again. Finally.

: 49:24Hey there.

Speaker 4: 49:25Hello.

Kelley Lynch: 49:27Cindy finally got her history episode.

Cindy Sealls: 49:30U m, yes. And what I love about history is how it can inform us about where we've been and where we might be going. Like we've been discussing immigration for centuries because James Madison was the one who said, no, we don't want a homogeneous country where everybody thinks the same and believes the same, but what will make this place better and special is that people have all kinds of beliefs so that no one particular belief a scends over another, which is just mind blowing to me to know that that was, that discussion was so long ago.

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 50:11And it's , it's, it's fascinating that talking about the fact and the perspective, that was very interesting. And I like this example of immigration in us, the law is kind of the fact and this idea of, you know, inviting immigrants from all of the world is kind of a perspective.

Cindy Sealls: 50:37It reminds me of the poem, let America be America again, written by Langston Hughes in 1936. And even though few people at that time were experiencing the promise of America, he continues to believe that America can be what it says it is, you know, and that was the whole thing of let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed, let it be that great strong land of love. Where never Kings connive or tyrants scheme ,that any man be crushed by one above, Oh, let my land be a land where Liberty is crowned with no false patriotic wreath. But opportunity is real. And land is free. Equality is in the air we breathe. We have not lived up to those principles, but there's hope, you know, b ut let America be what it's supposed to be. It hasn't been that yet, but let's keep working at it. And I think that's the beauty of America that we can just keep working at it. You know, don't give up, we have a lot of different kinds of people we're g oing t o make this experiment work. And I, I wish that Americans would see all Americans. You know what I mean? Where i t's, it's not African Americans, European Americans, Chinese Americans, Muslim Americans, we're Americans. You know, I w ish that we would see each other more like that.

Kelley Lynch: 52:22And that , that goes with the whole idea of, of immigrants. And everybody should learn to speak English. Everybody should assimilate everybody should. I mean, that's kind of what the conservatives have said.

Cindy Sealls: 52:37I'm not saying that.

Kelley Lynch: 52:38You're not saying that?

Cindy Sealls: 52:39So what , what they're saying is I want everybody to be arose and it should be a red road. I'm saying I want everybody to be whatever flower they are, because that's what makes the garden look beautiful. Exactly. You have to , every flower has like, people say that flower, you got to work a lot with that flower, but I want all of them. That's what makes the garden beautiful. And nobody's ever going to say, man, I wish all the roses were red or all the two lips were yellow. No!

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 53:14I think that this, this goes against the very basic idea of America. You know, it's a land of opportunity. And also it's a place where everybody can come with their own culture. And from that creates a new culture. This is not meant to be disrespectful of the country. You know, you don't have a history, you don't have a history. You have like 300 years and that's in a, you know , in a cosmic level, that's like nothing. Well , I mean, even compared to India, Bangladesh, I mean, how long we have a history of 4,000 years. So , so what I'm trying to say is like, since you are not anchored to any one concept or any one idea, because you don't have a history, you don't have something to go back to.

Kelley Lynch: 54:29I love that idea that we just,

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 54:33We just haven't, it's a fresh start .

Speaker 1: 54:36It can actually be realized

Speaker 6: 54:39It's a fresh start, a second chance. And so you start from scratch

Speaker 1: 54:46To me, that is why America has been so successful because these, all of these different people came from all of these different countries with different mindsets about how things should be in a country. And they came over here. Now, people were here, we'll admit people were here. However, I will say this. They took each of these people who sat down and wrote all of these different constitutions for the different colonies and the different States and the country were coming. They were bringing their knowledge of a prior system that they kind of liked, but they were going to tweak it so that it was a little better. And they took some of the native Americans ideas about how, how their culture was and wrote this constitution. And that to me is the beauty of it because you, like Tanvir said, it's exactly right. They don't have to say, well, you know, we always did it this way, so let's keep doing it this way because they don't have it.

Cindy Sealls: 55:52There it's a blank slate. It was a blank slate. Let's write this thing the way we think a government should function, a country should function. And the beauty of that constitution is because they made this Congress and because Congress changes every two years, Congress can change. And then the Senate has to be reelected that you're always going to have a change of people, including the president who are making the laws of the country. So the laws that we started off with look totally different than the laws now that is the beauty of it. And Tanvir is actually so right about that.

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 56:40Yeah. I feel that your system is kind of a living system. This is a living breathing organism because you are adapting to the changing environment, changing situation. But whereas in our case, most of our laws are that from the British colonial rule and then revised in 2000 or something like that. So we are kind of stuck in the past, but your system is designed in such a way that you respond to the changing needs of the country, changing needs of the people. Yeah. In the journey, sometimes it may be bad. It may be good. You cannot expect always to win, but in the end, because of the system, it will have a better result.

Kelley Lynch: 57:38I think it's a really, it's such a positive, definitely what we are. And I think a lot of us can feel whichever side. I mean, unfortunately there are sides and whichever side people are on, they can feel that America has really gone off the rails. But I think that view gives a real sense of hope and the promise that we have as a country,

Cindy Sealls: 58:11Like you said, it is an organism, they created this living organism. And the, what could happen with that is just, I think, unimaginable to us, if we live up to our creed, All men are created equal. You know, if we lived up to that, we treated people and in our country like that, and people around the world, I just can't even imagine what could happen with the whole world.

Kelley Lynch: 58:50It would be like a beacon. It would be actually like what I think we like to imagine ourselves being, you know, the guy on the, with the, the white horse, the white hat, I think we might, could actually be that , um, that hope and that light that we like to think that we are for the rest of the world.

Cindy Sealls: 59:13We won't be perfect. Nothing's perfect. We'll make mistakes. We'll do things that we shouldn't have done. But if we do them and we say, you know, we thought that that was a good idea, but that was not a good idea. And we're very sorry about that. And we're going to make restitution for it to whatever country, to whatever group of people, you know what I mean? Because that, that is what we should be doing as human beings. And since a country is nothing but a collection of human beings, it's not, you know, that's all we are. That's all a country is, that's what you do. You just, okay. You know what we, that was not the right thing to do. We apologize. We're very sorry. We're going to make restitution for that. And you know, you think people wouldn't forgive us for that?

Kelley Lynch: 59:58I think some people think of that as weakness.

Cindy Sealls: 1:00:02Think of what, what takes more strength when you're wrong and you know, you're wrong. What takes more strength to just try to ignore the fact that you're wrong and never do anything, or to go to that person and say, you know what, I'm really sorry. I should not have said that I should have not have done that. Would you please forgive me? What takes more strength?

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 1:00:22That takes a lot of courage to admit that you're wrong and you're willing to fix it.

Cindy Sealls: 1:00:30Think of the example that would set for other countries. You know, if the quote, unquote, greatest country in the world admitted that we did things that probably caused major problems in other countries, and that we were willing to admit it and to try to make restitution in whatever way those countries see fit. Tell us what to do. How can we make this better for you? Because of our mistake . Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to happen, but

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 1:00:59I wish we had that.

Kelley Lynch: 1:01:00It was a nice dream. I was enjoying the dream and the vision. It was so different than the current feeling, which is of being an agreement up on it.

Cindy Sealls: 1:01:10I'm not giving up on it.

Kelley Lynch: 1:01:12I think it's a beautiful vision.

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 1:01:14Really . It starts from there, it starts from one point and it spreads. That's how it is. What is collective wisdom? It's individuals wisdom together on the right path , right direction. That's it. That's what we need. It's true. This gives us this. This pandemic actually gives us a chance to redefine our path or our objective or our goal and start all over again.

Kelley Lynch: 1:01:52Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed the show. Remember to subscribe, and we'd be really grateful if you scroll down in your feed, click on the stars, write a review. If you've got some time and follow us on Instagram at a new normal podcast, you'll be glad you did. I'm afraid next week. My gig continues. So we're going to be off again next week, but we'll be back the following week with a mystery guest. Can't wait either. It's a mystery even to me. So we'll see you in a couple of weeks. All right . Bye. Bye.