Both elites and the public have expressed much recent anxiety about increasing political “polarization.” The moderate “center” that used to be the basis for compromise on all manner of policy has been disappearing for at least the last three decades, as the distance between the most liberal Republican in Congress and the most conservative Democrat continues to grow.
The two parties trade national congressional majorities and the presidency, but gridlock is the rule rather than the exception. Even the occasional policy victory, like Obamacare or the recent tax cut, is passed on strictly partisan lines and subject to reversal after the next narrow electoral victory by the other side.
Our political divisions and policy instability are symptoms of a growing conflict of visions over America’s past and future. At both elite and popular levels, Americans have become partisans of one or the other of what my colleague Charles Kesler calls our “two constitutions.” The stakes could not be higher: this is a fight over what kind of national political life we will choose for ourselves and the next generation. So we find ourselves in the midst of what another colleague, Angelo Codevilla, has labeled a “cold civil war.”
Williams isn’t the first person to comment on the growing divide in America– one that is growing every day. The left has enjoyed a monopoly of all communication for a very long time. That monopoly allowed them to advance an agenda in a united way, and because even those that may disagree with the agenda still had similar exposure to the same information, there was a level of cohesion, even if there wasn’t an agreement on what happened.
That all has changed with the proliferation of television stations, the advent of Talk Radio and the increasing ability to get your message out on this lovely thing called the Internet. Now all points of view can be heard, and you can effectively quarantine yourself of opposing view points.
Do you like the President? Then you can shut out all his detractors, listen to Qanon and people that believe that he is the best thing ever and rally to his defense of everything he does.
Do you dislike the President? Then you can shut out all his fans, listen to Seth Abramson, watch most of the MSM and gleefully anticipate when Mueller will release his report and save the world.
Trump has served to highlight this divide more than anything– or maybe exacerbate it. His fans spin everything he does as the best thing ever. His detractors make everything he does seem like it’s either the worst thing ever, or we’re on the cusp of everything falling apart. But Trump himself is not the problem. The problem is that there are two very different perspectives of what it means to be American, and both sides believe that they are the true Americans and the other side is not.
Neither side sees the other as American any more, because “American values” means something different to both groups of people. To one group of people it’s diversity, care for the environment, and responsibility. To the other it’s capitalism, Christian morality, a sense of nation. These groups are at a silent war, and you can see it in the way that one group sets forth an agenda, only to have the other group entirely reverse the agenda when they get into power.
With a large majority in power you are able to dictate the rules and respect the minority. With groups of roughly the same size you are going to have conflict, especially when things are close.
Maybe America does need to come to grips with the fact that there are two Americas and stop attempting to force the one to abide by the wishes of the other. Maybe we do need to separate for the good of all before the war does get hot?