No doubt about it: The country is badly divided. Each day’s news seems worse than the day before. But are we nearing a crack-up? Could missteps in the economy or foreign policy spiral out of control and lead to despair and collapse of legitimacy? Suppose the U.S.-China trade war gets bigger and deeper until it erodes our present prosperity. Neither Beijing nor Washington shows any signs of backing down.

Crusty realist Hans Morgenthau’s essays from the 1930s through the 1960s are filled with grim foreboding about the “decline of democracy.” But reading them now paradoxically gives me hope. To wit: Across U.S. history, periods of division and anger reign, but we always grow out of them — after, to be sure, a great deal of rancor and damage. Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington called these bouts “democratic distemper,” citizens recurrently getting snappish that democracy isn’t working for them.

Perhaps our first bout was the XYZ Affair of 1797–98 between American supporters and opponents of the French Revolution. The resultant Alien and Sedition Acts cast suspicion upon immigrants and made it harder for them to become U.S. citizens, the beta version of today’s anti-immigrant movement.

In the 1850s, the flood of Irish fleeing the Potato Famine produced a backlash in the anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party. Founded as the anti-immigrant Native American Party (sound familiar?), it was, for a few years, quite influential.

Our greatest division, the Civil War, was inevitable. The country could not stand half free and half slave. Peaceful separation was precluded by the problems of runaway slaves (would the Union return them?) and which western territories would be free and which slave. Many blame the clumsy James Buchanan, but, much like British Prime Minister Theresa May today, he was handed an insoluble problem. In terms of Southern attitudes, the effects of the Civil War still linger.

The anti-imperialist movement of 1898 divided the country over the war with Spain and the Philippine Insurrection. Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain were prominent anti-imperialists. The founder of American sociology, Yale’s William Graham Sumner, penned a bitter essay, “The Conquest of the United States by Spain,” meaning that we had taken over the Spanish colonialist mantle we claimed to have overthrown. The anti-imperialists first raised the question: “What are we doing far overseas shooting strange people who do not want us there?”

The belated U.S. entry into World War I was rancorous. Leftists especially opposed the war. Many immigrants, including anarchist Emma Goldman, were expelled. Socialist Eugene Debs was imprisoned for sedition in 1918. Likewise, World War II divided Americans. For one year preceding Pearl Harbor, isolationist America First drowned out those supporting Britain. Neither the sentiment nor the name have vanished.

The war itself and Cold War that followed unified the country to some degree, but Vietnam ripped that apart. Americans’ trust in government — abetted by Watergate and inflation — declined and never fully recovered. LBJ ran on an anti-war platform in 1964 and could have delivered on it. But Kennedy had committed us to fighting communism in Vietnam, trapping Johnson. Much like later presidents, LBJ denounced his critics as traitors. Arguably, our Vietnam divisions were worse than today’s.

Unlike previous distempers, today’s is not clearly linked to a specific circumstance, such as a war. Americans are thoroughly fed up with our endless wars, but they are fought by an all-volunteer army and entail relatively few casualties. There are no anti-war marches. The 2008 financial meltdown brought general agreement that emergency bailouts were necessary. The growth of inequality, however, brought anger but, contrary to Marx, much of the working class voted for the plutocrat.

All in all, this is just the latest distemper episode and not the worst. Really bad times may be coming, though. Some see the present as a replay of the 1930s, when paralyzed democracies did nothing to stem the tide of fascism until it was almost too late. The growth of populist nationalism worldwide does not predict peace. Russia and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon encourage Europe to fragment. Our current tariff wars could turn into another Hawley-Smoot Tariff and constrict world trade.

Two new books predict global chaos. Neoconservative Robert Kagan’s “The Jungle Grows Back” and French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy’s “The Empire and the Five Kings” worry that abdication of U.S. leadership will unleash expansionist aggression by several countries.

What can be done? Experience suggests that waves of distemper simply have to be waited out. Trying to settle them by shouting down the other side just deepens polarization. Reasoned argument fares poorly; positions have largely congealed. Those harmed by factories offshoring and rural hospitals closing have so far stood by Trump. One can only keep rational discourse alive and prepare for healing the country with unifying purposes: What do we stand for?