Political analyst Henry Olsen spoke about the current division of American politics and what he described as “an irrepressible conflict” akin to the North-South dynamic of the Civil War on Tuesday.
While Olsen gave no concrete answers on how to solve the current conflict and division, he offered a framework of questions and considerations that must be accounted for in order to move the political process in the U.S. forward.
The lecture, titled “Our House Divided: Lincoln, Trump, and America’s Irrepressible Conflict,” was sponsored by Freedom and Free Societies, a program at Cornell that is dedicated to understanding and exploring constitutional liberty and freedom.
Olsen was introduced as an expert in populism and a renowned predictor of elections. In addition to being a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Olsen is an editor at UnHerd.com, a non-partisan, analytical news platform, and the author of books including The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism.
Olsen began his lecture by framing the most contentious topics between Republicans and Democrats — immigration, LGBT rights, institutional racism and most recently the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh hearings. The conflict, according to Olsen, is predicated on the lack of ability for each side to compromise on basic moral principles that frame political ideals
Thus, according to Olson, an irrepressible conflict takes form.
“We’re engaged in trench warfare,” Olsen said, referring to the unproductive and divisive discourse of current American politics.
“It appears that everything that one side says is immediately countermanded both as wrong and malicious by the other,” Olsen said. Similar to the conflict over slavery, where a person is either free or not free, political issues of today have been framed in the same fashion, he explained.
“What would you give up?” Olsen asked the audience.
Olsen made it clear that the only way to break through the “trench warfare” nature of American politics and overcome the “irrepressible conflict” is for each side to open up to the possibility of making sacrifices.
“The only way to accomplish that today is to do what we have done before which is to think about our American identity that both keeps us as a nation united as one…but one that also allows for change and adaptation,” he said.