Embracing a Civic Republicanism that Doesn’t Embrace Us All

Today our nation faces deep problems and divides. Common ground feels rare on good days, and impossible to achieve on most. Some Americans argue that these trench-line disagreements are a result of the moral degradation of citizenship; a country without a moral standards. My grandfather is one of these Americans. The tumult of our nation, he says, is due to the country’s failure to maintain traditions of common decency and compromise. My grandfather and many others argue that the virtues of civic republicanism – cooperation, compromise, and consideration – are inherent within our national identity and should be reflected in our politics. I disagree. From the birth of our nation, the values ofUS civic republicanism haven’t been afforded to all communities. Communities in the US have been continually denied participation in the greater, civic republicanism community due to racialized, gendered, homophobic, and xenophobic biases. Viewing our nation’s past of civic republicanism through this lens reveals much about our current political climate, exposing challenges in returning to political civility.

My journey in exploring our nation’s past of civic republicanism began with a recent road trip through the Old West – a region of the United States that particularly prides itself on civic republicanism values.  I spent the first week of my semester traveling the northern Western states of the United States with my family and other eclipse chasers. While on the highway through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park, the values of civic republicanism were evident in nearly every road stop and curious shop during the thirteen hour drive. At the National Oregon California Trail Center in Montepelier, Idaho, the idea of community survival was emphasized, with the museum docents insisting that settlers would not survive the journey without cooperation, trade, and communal attitudes. Without trusting neighborhoods, they said, crops would not flourish, wagons would not repair, and livestock would die.

Upon arriving back to Phoenix, many of the values I experienced on my road trip were reflected back within the Barn Raising and Port Huron readings. While reading, sentiments expressed in the text were reflective of the civic republicanism that I experienced on the road trip’s museums. Memories in the text of Montana, “But on these Montana plains, life was still harsh enough that they had no choice. Avoiding people you did not like was not an option. Everyone was needed by each other in some capacity” (121), made me reflect on the Wyoming plains that I had just experienced. After seeing the arid land that stretched for miles, I was agreed that a community couldn’t thrive without codependence and trust. Just as it took a community to build a barn, it would take a community to fend off buffalo, starvation, and disease.

Yet, both while reading the museum exhibits and class readings, the idea of community dependence felt misleading. While settlers in Idaho may have embraced fellow settlers, they certainly didn’t embrace indigenous populations. Instead of relying on indigenous communities for trade and knowledge exchange, they responded with gunpowder and alienation. The restrictive nature of American community can also be seen through subtler ways. The barns built by Kemmis were most likely constructed by a community of white individuals – certainly not reflective of racial, religious, or other identity differences.

The community of the United States that our nation currently faces is much more diverse, intersectional, and different than the community early settlers or theorists faced. Learning to work together requires not only overcoming differences in opinions, but also the acceptance of the humanity within every person and community. It’s hard to work together over a collective issue if all sides at the table don’t agree who deserves to be at the table. As our nation struggles an openly racist President and growing white-supremacy movements, the current loss of civility makes sense. Our nation can only build a barn together after it accepts the ability of every individual to build a barn – a consensus of unity, inclusion, and diversity that our country hasn’t reached. With this in mind, perhaps civic republicanism can still thrive in the United States – but only after our nation expands ‘community’ to include more than just the white cis-males elected to office.

A Better World Is Possible

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3 Responses to Embracing a Civic Republicanism that Doesn’t Embrace Us All

  1. jacobdsaaevdra says:

    I think the points you bring up in your post are spot on. Civic Republicanism is about uniting together for a common cause or good. However, all to often in our nations history we exclude those based on their gender, race, and sexuality. Our if we included them we expected them to hide themselves as to not cause discomfort or create issues. I think this is perfect clear with the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that was implemented by the Clinton Administration. We were perfectly okay with our Gay brothers and sisters fighting and dining for us as long as they were not open about their true selves. Thus this uniting is another form of exclusion as we force different people to conform to our societal norm.

  2. rustlingwinds says:

    I found your argument compelling and interesting! Especially when you assert that US Civic Republicanism has not upheld what a true ideology of community would stand for. Unfortunately, US Civic Republicanism has historically and presently kept important groups of people out of the conversation–or out of the act of raising a barn. I appreciate the time you took to remind us that even the conversation around US Civic Republicanism, one usually centered around bringing people together, has often forgotten the majority of our nation’s voices–those of minority communities. You conclude by arguing that our nation may need to expand its definition of ‘community’. Do you have any propositions on how we may be able to do that, especially given the present political and social climate?

    I often wonder if a step in the right direction, in including all those within our community, requires we check our unconscious biases and prejudices. To try and condense a long story into a simple one, an old orchestral group used to be all made up of male performers. After all, the judges making these decisions felt the males always performed with better intonation and sound then their female counterparts. Yet, one day they conducted the auditions differently…they placed a large black curtain across the stage and every participant played behind it. Suddenly, the orchestra had many female members and the number kept growing. The judges could no longer be affected by their biases because they could no longer make assumptions about any performer’s identities. Obviously, we can’t place one large black curtain across Arizona or our federal political systems, but will our eventual inclusion require we check our biases in someway? I only bring this up because I fear we may give individuals a voice and finally invite them to the table, but still no one will be listening.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. ghostcole says:

    I found your first paragraph very interesting because I just had a discussion about traditions in one of my classes. It seems like newer generation no longer follow their family traditions nor do they have the same manners or respect. We see kids who do not respect their parents adults who do not watch over their elders. Instead of us being a community many are drifting apart to do their things in there own way. I do agree that we all need to work together as a community because when everyone works together we can achieve a greater change. But in order for that to happen we all need to respect each other regardless or race, gender, and social class. As individuals we need to work together to make our visions realistic and when we all work together all our voices will be heard.

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