It’s said that America is the most polarized it’s been in history.
It’s not true, of course; the stretch from the 1890s into the Depression features some very stark social battle lines. The 1828 election was kinda contentious. And you might recall we fought a Civil War once upon a time. Ken Burns even did a documentary about it.
In the past, we’ve fought – usually more or less civilly – amongst ourselves over a lot of things. Slavery was a big one. Approaches to federalism – and yep, that question usually manifested itself in re slavery, for the first fourscore and seven years of our nation’s existence – were a common squabbling point. I suspect it was the topic of the year for the Debate team from 1777 to 1864.
And from the end of the Civil War until the Depression, the gulf between the Haves and the Have Nots was big. Much bigger than it is today, even after five years of Obama exacerbating it for the benefit of his plutocrat pals. No, seriously – no contest.
Of course, the different parts of this country have differed in the past – so much so that two of them spent four years fighting the bloodiest war in American history. The contention? Federalism, economic rivalries, whatever – they all tied back to slavery, one way or the other.
And in each of those conflicts – once the noxious legacy of slavery was extinguished – there was a general agreement; underneath it all, we were undertaking a valid national experiment.
As in “national”, meaning “everyone in the nation”.
I wonder, sometimes.
Fragmentation: Our last two presidential elections showed us that about half of the people of this country believe that government is here to run things, make things better, give you warm fuzzies when you’ve got the blues. They believe that a college education, health insurance, contraception and housing are inalienable rights, but guns are for the cops and life begins when the mother’s mellow isn’t harshed. They believe that a central government is the agent of Hope and Change – and once the flap over Obamacare dies down, they still will.
The other half of the country? They believe a melange of things; some, that government exists to protect the good guys from the bad guys and create a level legal playing field; others, that government is an agent of a community morality; still others, that government is an agent of general good, but with some faults that need to be scrutinized.
Slavery, we’ll note for future reference, doesn’t come up.
Deck Chairs: The divide between red and blue, rural and urban, “elite” and populist, 2nd Amendment supporter and crypto-Maoist, is very deep – and, worse, few seem to pay more than the lippiest of lip service to “crossing the Great Divide”, to do anything other but point at the natives over there and laugh.
We don’t like each other much within the several states anymore; California, Maine, Maryland, Colorado and several other states are, at least rhetorically and in some cases in terms of popular momentum, on the brinking of at least having to talk about splitting.
In Cali’s case, into six parts – four of them relatively conservative, two of them seemingly Detroit with palm trees or expensive coffee (so even if the whole thing happens, it’ll get gerrymandered to a fine sheen).
Colorado’s potential split – which is on lines of economic philosophy more than mere “partisanship” – appears to be the most viable idea, so far; it may actually have to get discussed somewhere in proximity to where policy decisions get made. The differences between la-la-liberal, Cali-expat Denver and the hard-working northeastern part of the state seem pretty irreconcilable for now.
And that’s just within the concept of the “United States”.
Plenty Of Contempt To Go Around: Nationally? Perhaps you’ve heard; neither side of our “great divide” likes each other all that much.
In a famous jape a few years back, Paul Krugman wrote that the Red States are net consumers of resources, and – in a meme that’s had most of America’s lefty alt-media-addled droogs chanting like Jim Jones’ Greek Chorus – that “Blue America carries Red America”.
Of course, Krugman was wrong; he counted all federal expenditures, whether a military base or an entitlement program – as a “benefit” to the state in which it’s spent. Thus, a squadron of B-1 bombers at Minot Air Force Base, each worth $2 Billion with at least that much extra in infrastructure, maintenance and other expense in support, is counted as $50 Billion in “aid” to sparsely populated western North Dakota. Those farmers sure must be wealthy, huh? Of course not; but the price of military hardware and bases, federal lands, Native reservations and every other piece of Federal property was counted the same way. Also, incomes and costs of living are lower in the rural west – ergo, so are federal taxes. Suddenly Paul Krugman opposes progressive taxation?
And the agents of the nannystate – America’s “elites” – have no problem returning the favor.
In a fit of pissy pique after the 2004 election a number of not-all-that-fringey Democrat pundits advocated splitting the US into two nations; “The United States of Canada” (apparently without consulting the Canadians who are – I suspect – perfectly happy to remain independent) and “Jesusland”.
The calls vanished after 2008. Democrats became staunch unionists again.
But the point was made; many Americans don’t feel especially invested in the United States of America is it is today – or, to be more accurate, with the other people we find ourselves sharing it with.
So – why are we a nation again?