Two Americas… Is That Perhaps Where We Are and What We Need To Do?

We now know who won the election… just not whether it was fair and square or whether we can remain two Americas within one shell. We are a house divided!!  AM~

National Review: But whether Barack Obama is elected to a second term or Mitt Romney is elected the 45th president, the contours of their support during this fiercely fought campaign show that we live in two Americas.

The culturally cohesive America of the 1950s that some of us remember, usually glossing over racial segregation and the civil-rights movement, is no longer with us and hasn’t been for some time.

That was an America of universal media, in which everyone watched one of three similar TV channels and newscasts every night. Radio, 1930s and 1940s movies, and 1950s and early-1960s television painted a reasonably true picture of what was typically American.

That’s not the America we live in now. Niche media has replaced universal media.

One America listens to Rush Limbaugh, the other to NPR. Each America has its favorite cable news channel. As for entertainment, Americans have 100-plus cable channels to choose from, and the Internet provides many more options.

Bill Bishop highlighted the political consequences of this in his 2008 book, The Big Sort. He noted that in 1976 only 27 percent of voters lived in counties carried by one presidential candidate by 20 percent or more. In 2004, nearly twice as many, 48 percent, lived in these landslide counties. That percentage may be even higher this year.

We’re more affluent than we were in the 1950s (if you don’t think so, try doing without your air conditioning, microwaves, smartphones, and Internet connections). And we have used this affluence to seal ourselves off in the America of our choosing while trying to ignore the other America.

We tend to choose the America that is culturally congenial. Most people in the San Francisco Bay area wouldn’t consider living in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex, even for much better money. Most metroplexers would never relocate to the Bay Area.

There are plenty of smart and creative and successful people in both Americas. But they don’t like to mix with each other these days.

They especially don’t like to talk about politics and the cultural issues that, despite the prominence of economic concerns today, have largely determined our political allegiances over the last two decades.

One America tends to be traditionally religious, personally charitable, appreciative of entrepreneurs, and suspicious of government. The other tends to be secular or only mildly religious, less charitable, skeptical of business, and supportive of government as an instrument to advance liberal causes.

The more conservative America tends to be relatively cohesive. Evangelical Protestants and white Catholics make common cause; the 17th-century religious wars are over. Southern or northern accents don’t much matter.

That’s typical of the Republican party, which has always had core support from people who are seen as typical Americans but are not by themselves a majority in our always diverse country.

The more liberal America tends to be diverse. Like Obama’s 2008 coalition, it includes many at the top and at the bottom of the economic ladder.

That’s typical of the Democratic party, a coalition of disparate groups — immigrant Catholics and white southerners long ago, blacks and gentry liberals today.

Ronald Reagan, speaking the language of the old, universal popular culture, could appeal to both Americas. His successors, not so much. Barack Obama, after an auspicious start, has failed to do so.

As a result, there are going to be many Americans profoundly unhappy with the result of this election, whichever way it goes. Those on the losing side will be especially angry with those whose candidate won.

Americans have faced this before. This has been a culturally diverse land from its colonial beginnings. The mid-20th-century cultural cohesiveness was the exception, not the rule.

We used to get along by leaving each other alone. The Founders established a limited government, neutral on religion, allowing states, localities, and voluntary associations to do much of society’s work. Even that didn’t always work: We had a Civil War.

An enlarged federal government didn’t divide mid-20th-century Americans, except on civil-rights issues. Otherwise, there was general agreement about the values government should foster.

Now the two Americas disagree, sharply. Government decisions enthuse one and enrage the other. The election may be over, but the two Americas are still not on speaking terms.

Michael Barone

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner © 2012 The Washington Examiner

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About Ask Marion

I am a babyboomer and empty nester who savors every moment of my past and believes that it is the responsibility of each of us in my generation and Americans in general to make sure that America is as good or even a better place for future generations as it was for us. So far... we haven't done very well!! Favorite Quotes: "The first 50 years are to build and acquire; the second 50 are to leave your legacy"; "Do something that scares you every day!"; "The journey in between what you once were and who you are becoming is where the dance of life really takes place".
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2 Responses to Two Americas… Is That Perhaps Where We Are and What We Need To Do?

  1. Pingback: We Must Remain In The Fight | askmarion

  2. Suze says:

    I hear some very reasonable republicans discussing the viability of separate red states possibly seceeding from a union and media that no longer represents their values, and although at this point so soon after the election such talk is largely just emotional, there is an alarming intensity of feeling among these steady types. I also heard from more than one group that the liberal party has morphed into something conservatives can no longer support in their two party system. And this is true also for aspects of the Republican party which has also been quilty of compromising its standard, subsequently the no-show of high percentage of conservatives in the voting electorate might be a reflection of that. There are several ways citizens can leave a country, and it doesn’t always mean fleeing to Canada.

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