Civility Project: Americans Have Always Been at Each Other’s Throats

In Founding Brothers: the Revolutionary Generation, Joseph J. Ellis shows the political debates concerning the size and role of the government have been a part of our nation since the beginning. Originally, the founders did agree on some broad principles: namely the necessity to secede from Britain and a representative form of government. But once the Revolutionary War ended, the founders no longer had a common enemy and their differences with each other came to the fore.

Contemporary debates about the shape of government and even the meaning of the American Revolution are nothing new. These debates are in our national DNA and will likely never find resolution. That we have held together for so long — with one notable exception — is something of a miracle considering how uncivil we have been to each other. In retelling important events from the early years of the United States under the Constitution, Ellis shows the truth of the proverb, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

In the chapter, “The Collaborators,” Ellis describes the political landscape at the end of George Washington’s presidency. The nation began to fray and political parties formed, despite previously being considered anathema. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two allies before and during the Revolution, found themselves as opponents in the contest to succeed Washington. While Adams won the election, Jefferson proved to be more percipient as he realized parties would dominate the future of American politics.

Consider this excerpt from “The Collaborators” and how much it sounds like it could describe American politics today. We don’t seem to have matured much in how we describe our opponents, nor are we more willing to view our own shortcomings. (I’ve added the emphasis.)

The ongoing debate between Federalists and Republicans had degenerated into ideological warfare. Each side sincerely saw the other as traitors to the core principles of the American Revolution. The political consensus that had held together during Washington’s first term, and had then begun to fragment into Federalist and Republican camps over the Whiskey Rebellion and Jay’s Treaty, broke down completely in 1797. Jefferson spoke for many of the participants caught up in this intensely partisan and nearly scatological political culture when he described it as a fundamental loss of trust between former friends. “Men who have been intimate all their lives,” he observed, “cross the street to avoid meeting, and turn their heads another way, lest they should be obliged to touch hats.” He first used the phrase “a wall of separation,” which would later become famous as his description of the proper relation between church and state; here, however, describing the political and ideological division between Federalists and Republicans: “Politics and party hatreds destroy the happiness of every being here,” he reported to his daughter. “They seem, like salamanders, to consider fire as their element.”

Jefferson’s interpretation of the escalating party warfare was richly ironic, since he had contributed to the breakdown of personal trust and the complete disavowal of bipartisan cooperation by rejecting Adams’s offer to renew the old partnership. But Jefferson was fairly typical in this regard, lamenting the chasm between long-standing colleagues while building up the barricades from his side of the divide. Federalists and Republicans alike accused their opponents of narrow-minded partisanship, never conceding or apparently even realizing that their own behavior also fit the party label they affixed to their enemies.

The very idea of a legitimate opposition did not yet exist in the political culture of the 1790s, and the evolution of political parties was proceeding in an environment that continued to regard the word party as an epithet. In effect, the leadership of the revolutionary generation lacked a vocabulary adequate to describe the politics they were inventing. And the language they inherited framed the genuine political differences and divisions in terms that only exacerbated their nonnegotiable character.

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We’re Adopting (a Human Child) Again!

Family Shot Trees Cover 03I am excited to announce my family is in the process of adopting another child. We have met all the criteria, jumped through all the legal hoops, and are now available to match with a birthmom.

We had a great experience with the adoption of our first child, Elijah. He is a wonderful little boy who can’t wait to be an older brother.

Our adoption agency is the Independent Adoption Center (IAC), the same agency we used last time. IAC facilitates open adoptions in which we meet and have ongoing contact with our child’s birthparents. Our relationship with Elijah’s birthfamily has been a wonderful blessing. Because of open adoption, Elijah has answers to questions most adopted children ask about their family of origin. More importantly, he is in relationship with his birthfamily, who love him dearly — and the more people who can love a kid, the better.

Last time many people asked how they could help us. In anticipation of similar questions, I have three specific opportunities for folks.

First, please pray for us, our future child, and that child’s birthfamily. Ask God to grant us all patience and wisdom. The average waiting time with our agency is fourteen months, and usually longer for a family that has children, like ours. I know you’re thinking, “But last time you didn’t wait long at all.” Let me stop you there. I cannot emphasize enough how unusual it was for us to wait only five weeks to adopt Elijah. That adoption was so out of the ordinary, the agency still speaks about it three years later. Another quick adoption is possible, but not probable. While I know many are excited for us, it isn’t helpful for us to be reminded how short our wait was last time. We need to prepare for a longer wait, while remaining open to surprises. We ask for your encouragement, reminding us adopting a second child will happen and God has the right child in mind for us. I learned a wonderful blessing in adopting Elijah. When we began the process last time, I thought I wanted to adopt any child. In becoming Elijah’s father, I realize now I didn’t want just any child, I wanted Elijah. I love him uniquely. This unique love we share is a gift from Jesus. I know that a similar gift of unique love between us and our next child awaits. We don’t know how long our wait will be, but we are confident God will bring about the right child who will help make us a new family.

Second, if you know anyone who has an unplanned pregnancy and is wondering if they are ready to parent, please give them our contact information and we will put them in communication with our agency. The IAC offers great counseling for birthmothers, birthfathers, and all members of birthfamilies, free of charge. Our e-mail is tylerandcarey(at)gmail.com. We have a toll-free number: 1.800.299.0337. We created an I Heart Adoption profile with our agency where birthparents can learn more about us. We also set up a Facebook profile. Please go to our profiles with the agency and on Facebook and like the pages. These steps help us get the word out.

Third, adoption is expensive, even with agencies being required to be nonprofit organizations in California and many other states. Whereas health insurance helps cover the costs of pregnancy, birth, and even infertility, there is no equivalent insurance system for adoption. While we have saved so that we are able to afford it, many families either accrue significant debt to pursue their dream of adopting a child, or opt out because the costs are too great. The fact is many kids need an adoptive family and the massive up front costs of adoption dissuade several potential parents from opening their homes. Some parents have been able to use crowdfunding to help cover their costs. Some have applied for grants from foundations, but those foundations need donations from others to have grants to award. If you would have considered giving us money to help with our adoption, please help another family achieve their dream of adoption by making a donation to one of the grant organizations, like HelpUsAdopt.org.

Carey, Elijah, and I are grateful to be on this journey again. God has blessed our families through adoption for several generations. Thank you for your prayers and support.