Divided We Fall 2020

Divided We Fall

Political Commentator David French Talks with Benedictine Students

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

David French in the Divided We Fall Discussion

On the eve of one of the most contested and divisive elections in recent history, noted political commentator and author David French discussed his new book, Divided We Fall, with Benedictine students, Dr. Kimberly Shankman, Dean of the College, and Dr. Joseph Wurtz, Dean of Students. French participated via Zoom and took questions both from the students in the room and the online viewers.

“There are a lot of books out there that talk about how we’re divided and why we’re divided,” French said. “What I wanted to do was not only show that things are bad and we’re polarized, but there aren’t any trends making it better, and, in fact, the trends that exist are making things worse and they’re making things worse in a particularly dangerous way if you look at it historically.”

A fellow at the National Review Institute and a staff writer for National Review from 2015 to 2019, French currently serves as senior editor of The Dispatch. He is one of the few, if not the only author to talk about the potential for states to secede from the union and break up the United States. However, that is not his conclusion. His book offers guidance for ways to bring the country back together.

He noted that people have been moving to like-minded areas geographically for decades in what he calls the “Big Sort.” He also noted the polarizing influence of social media, which has given a voice to extremism. And he noted political, religious, ideological and philosophical polarization as well. He says in the book that “there is not a single cultural, religious, political, or social force that is pulling Americans together more than it is pushing us apart.”

“We cannot keep pulling apart like this and presume that the nation will remain intact, especially as we overlay an enormous amount of hostility,” he said to the gathered students.

French said documents like The Federalist Papers and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provide measures to deal with the animosity in the midst of negative polarization.

“We have the means to deal with this by protecting not just our own liberty but the liberty of others so that many flowers can bloom, as opposed to seeking to stamp out all other flowers and leave only one remaining,” he said. This is the very basis of his solution, which is a renewed commitment to American pluralism.

But there is no “four-point plan to reunite America” as French said we must go beyond policy and look to the heart.

“It requires heart changes. It requires a change in outlook. It requires a better class of leaders,” he said.

French referenced two Bible passages from the Book of Micah that illustrated his vision. One was Micah 4:4, which he said George Washington used more than 50 times in his speeches as the young republic was trying to pull diverse groups together. And the other was Micah 6:8.

“I end the book with Micah 6:8, ‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God,’” said French.

“Acting justly…that’s the easy part in the era of outrage. We’re seeking justice,” he said. “Loving mercy humanizes your political opponent. And then walking humbly is our acknowledgement that, in a complex culture and a complex country, we don’t know all the answers. We need to be open to learning and we need to be open to discovering, and in fact, we may need some of that mercy that we’re called on to extend to others.”

Students who had read the book and participated in the discussion included SGA President Liliana Pokropski, Black Student Union President Jordan Malcom, Campus Activities Board leader Wyatt Iseman, and others. Questions revolved around the possibility of pluralism in a society that has various factions who have the “right” answers; social media influence on the problem; the inherent animosity created by the two-party system; the pandemic becoming a polarizing event rather than a national crisis that pulls the country together; media mistakes in the rush to publish; disagreement over the definition of terms like systemic racism; the fact that things that traditionally unite the country, like the flag and the national anthem, are causing polarization; and the difference between extreme positions on a national versus a local level.

Here is what the New York Times said about Divided We Fall:

“In his admirably measured book
Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation, French convincingly argues that polarization is putting America on a perilous path to disunion.

“A conservative evangelical Christian who has lived and worked among secular liberals, French understands better than most that coexistence with people of radically different backgrounds and beliefs is not only possible but necessary, and that it requires a basic respect for pluralism that fewer and fewer Americans seem willing to show.” 

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been named in the Top 10 in the Midwest of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.

Divided We Fall

Political Commentator David French Talks with Benedictine Students

David French in the Divided We Fall Discussion

On the eve of one of the most contested and divisive elections in recent history, noted political commentator and author David French discussed his new book, Divided We Fall, with Benedictine students, Dr. Kimberly Shankman, Dean of the College, and Dr. Joseph Wurtz, Dean of Students. French participated via Zoom and took questions both from the students in the room and the online viewers.

“There are a lot of books out there that talk about how we’re divided and why we’re divided,” French said. “What I wanted to do was not only show that things are bad and we’re polarized, but there aren’t any trends making it better, and, in fact, the trends that exist are making things worse and they’re making things worse in a particularly dangerous way if you look at it historically.”

A fellow at the National Review Institute and a staff writer for National Review from 2015 to 2019, French currently serves as senior editor of The Dispatch. He is one of the few, if not the only author to talk about the potential for states to secede from the union and break up the United States. However, that is not his conclusion. His book offers guidance for ways to bring the country back together.

He noted that people have been moving to like-minded areas geographically for decades in what he calls the “Big Sort.” He also noted the polarizing influence of social media, which has given a voice to extremism. And he noted political, religious, ideological and philosophical polarization as well. He says in the book that “there is not a single cultural, religious, political, or social force that is pulling Americans together more than it is pushing us apart.”

“We cannot keep pulling apart like this and presume that the nation will remain intact, especially as we overlay an enormous amount of hostility,” he said to the gathered students.

French said documents like The Federalist Papers and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provide measures to deal with the animosity in the midst of negative polarization.

“We have the means to deal with this by protecting not just our own liberty but the liberty of others so that many flowers can bloom, as opposed to seeking to stamp out all other flowers and leave only one remaining,” he said. This is the very basis of his solution, which is a renewed commitment to American pluralism.

But there is no “four-point plan to reunite America” as French said we must go beyond policy and look to the heart.

“It requires heart changes. It requires a change in outlook. It requires a better class of leaders,” he said.

French referenced two Bible passages from the Book of Micah that illustrated his vision. One was Micah 4:4, which he said George Washington used more than 50 times in his speeches as the young republic was trying to pull diverse groups together. And the other was Micah 6:8.

“I end the book with Micah 6:8, ‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God,’” said French.

“Acting justly…that’s the easy part in the era of outrage. We’re seeking justice,” he said. “Loving mercy humanizes your political opponent. And then walking humbly is our acknowledgement that, in a complex culture and a complex country, we don’t know all the answers. We need to be open to learning and we need to be open to discovering, and in fact, we may need some of that mercy that we’re called on to extend to others.”

Students who had read the book and participated in the discussion included SGA President Liliana Pokropski, Black Student Union President Jordan Malcom, Campus Activities Board leader Wyatt Iseman, and others. Questions revolved around the possibility of pluralism in a society that has various factions who have the “right” answers; social media influence on the problem; the inherent animosity created by the two-party system; the pandemic becoming a polarizing event rather than a national crisis that pulls the country together; media mistakes in the rush to publish; disagreement over the definition of terms like systemic racism; the fact that things that traditionally unite the country, like the flag and the national anthem, are causing polarization; and the difference between extreme positions on a national versus a local level.

Here is what the New York Times said about Divided We Fall:

“In his admirably measured book
Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation, French convincingly argues that polarization is putting America on a perilous path to disunion.

“A conservative evangelical Christian who has lived and worked among secular liberals, French understands better than most that coexistence with people of radically different backgrounds and beliefs is not only possible but necessary, and that it requires a basic respect for pluralism that fewer and fewer Americans seem willing to show.” 

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been named in the Top 10 in the Midwest of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.

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