Thursday, November 8, 2012

America Divided?

Jake Simmons, at the Telegraph, asserts that the United States is a nation that hates itself. He explains:
The cult Chicago radio programme This American Life devoted an entire programme this week to exploring the startling schism that divides American Democrats from Republicans. “Not only do the two sides disagree on the solutions to the country’s problems,” runs the introduction, “they don’t even agree on what the problems are. It’s two versions of the world in collision.” The stories that follow include a secret Democrat voter in a Republican town who fears for his livelihood and personal relationships if he were to “come out”; a woman who was thrown out of her local hiking club because of her Republican sympathies; a man who refused to share his barbecue with a friend voting Democrat; and the way in which moderates have been elbowed out of the way in New Hampshire as Democrats move more to the Left, and Republicans to the Right. The overall effect of the programme is striking. This is a country divided more starkly than at any time in recent history.

The United States has always suffered under deep divisions of race, sex, education and religion. But a major study of the evolution of American values over the last 25 years, carried out by the Pew Research Center, has found that political affiliation is now the number-one fault line that runs through American society. Former issues that previously enjoyed bipartisan support, such as immigration, support for a social safety net and environmental preservation, have broken apart as both parties have become more extreme. Whether this polarisation at a political level is a reflection of a social divide, or is creating that social divide, is unknown.

... Reasons for this huge divide are complex. In essence, it is a combination of many factors. The huge amounts of money spent on campaigning – the presidential campaigns together costed
[sic] around $2 billion – have stoked levels of resentment between the parties, particularly with the increased emphasis on attack strategies. Some Legislatures and governors have “redistricted” the areas they represent to make them more uniformly sympathetic to a single party. The number of Caucasian Democrats has fallen from 64 per cent to 55 per cent over the last 12 years, which means that a wider range of society is represented at the polls. In the South, which was once a heartland of moderate Democratic voters, the civil rights legislation of the 1960s has heralded a mass conversion to Republicanism. All of these reasons, and more, has brought the United States to crisis point. Whatever the outcome of the election, America is straining at the seams. 
Just a few thoughts I had while reading this. First, the U.S. has historically had deep divisions and divisive national elections--other than a handful of decades when there was a monopoly on news. That is the essence of a two-party system. Having said that, I believe there is a cultural divide, and it is widening. However, it is not along a single axis (much as commentators may wish it was). It is between those that embrace identity politics versus those who believe in equality; it is between those that embrace perversion versus those who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian values; it is between those who feed from the government trough and those who believe people should advance and prosper through their own work and ingenuity; it is between urban and rural; it is between the ruling class and the middle class.

Second, I don't see that the U.S. necessarily has any deeper divisions than any other nation. Certainly, we don't have anything approaching the division within Northern Ireland, or states with active separatist movements like Scotland.

Third, the statement that the southern democrats fled the Democratic party because of civil rights legislation is a downright lie. The Republican party was the primary supporter of black civil rights. The KKK was, for all practical purposes, an arm of the Democratic party. No, it was the ascendency of social and environmental liberals in the Democratic party that drove socially conservative blue-collar democrats into the arms of Ronald Reagan in the 80's. Up until Reagan, the South was solidly Democratic.

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