If the months since the November elections have shown us anything, it’s that the US is more deeply divided than we’ve experienced in a very long time. This has been building at least since the 1990s, starting in Congress and ultimately coming to be reflected in a polarized electorate, but it’s reached the point where, rather than take pleasure in the success of a politician elected to the presidency, you have to keep your fingers crossed on his behalf.
For starters, we now have a Congress—and electorate—divided along multiple fault lines. There are, of course, the partisan differences on the complex challenges that beset this country—climate change, economic growth, the pandemic, policing and racial justice, our policies toward China and Russia. Political groups with opinions on these and other issues are more sophisticated, more active, more insistent, and more aggressive in trying to shape the public dialogue than ever before. Each side tends to be suspicious of the other, viewing their adversaries not just as wrong, but as attacking the national security interests of the country.
Now in the mix, though, we also have the divisions stoked by President Trump, whose desperation to hold onto power has led him and his followers to traffic in conspiracy theories lacking any evidence and to reject the norms, principles, and institutions we’ve relied on for centuries to build this nation. There now seem to be two Republican Parties in Congress and in the country at large: one that is interested in enabling and appealing to people who reject constitutional democracy, and one that is willing to stand up for it.
This is exacerbated by our splintered media and social media universe, our rural/urban/suburban divide, our regional and racial differences, and even ideological differences that were once about policy but today are as much about lifestyle and community preferences as anything else. You get the impression that many Republicans and Democrats—Americans all—live in different worlds today, gravitating toward separate houses of worship, schools, neighborhoods, bars and restaurants, media outlets, movies and television shows. I’ve even run across people of both parties who don’t want their children to marry someone of the other party.