David Brooks says what everyone else says, that electioneering is almost meaningless, and even the candidate who ends up being nominated seems not to matter (Herschel Walker, cough), because the naton is divided into two countries and people just vote for the one they identify with. (NY Times) And then he adds this:
America has always had vast cultural differences. Back in 2001, I wrote a long piece for The Atlantic comparing the deeply blue area of Montgomery County, Md., with the red area of Franklin County in south-central Pennsylvania.
I noted the vast socio-economic and cultural differences that were evident, even back then. But in my interviews, I found there was a difference without a ton of animosity.
For example, Ted Hale was a Presbyterian minister there. “There’s nowhere near as much resentment as you would expect,” he told me. “People have come to understand that they will struggle financially. It’s part of their identity. But the economy is not their god. That’s the thing some others don’t understand. People value a sense of community far more than they do their portfolio.”
Back in those days I didn’t find a lot of class-war consciousness in my trips through red America. I compared the country to a high school cafeteria. Jocks over here, nerds over there, punks somewhere else. Live and let live.
Now people don’t just see difference, they see menace. People have put up barricades and perceive the other class as a threat to what is beautiful, true and good. I don’t completely understand why this animosity has risen over the past couple of decades, but it makes it very hard to shift the ever more entrenched socio-economic-cultural-political coalitions.
This is, to me, the mystery of contemporary politics: not the division, which is old, and probably natural, and possibly even beneficial; who wants a country where everyone agrees on everything? The new thing is the degree of hate and fear. I can think of a few possible causes: the end of the Cold War, the rise of partisan attack dogs to party leadership, the changing media landscape created by cable tv and the internet, the decline of other identities like religion. As to what we might do about it, I honestly have no idea. But it makes me sick.