Look no further than the vastly different television shows Americans watch in the Heartland vs. the Northeast to see how culturally divided the United States has become. America has been divided before, but can we build unity now in the age of Trump?
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” President Abraham Lincoln delivered these words at the Republican State Convention in Illinois in 1858. Just a few years later, America was divided in a Civil War. One hundred years after that conflict, America was again divided. This time over Civil Rights, with the division transitioning from battlefields like Fredericksburg and Gettysburg to the floor of the Senate and neighborhoods throughout the nation.
Today, more than a half century after the Civil Rights era, America is again severely divided. However, instead of a single issue – such as slavery or civil rights – being the catalyst for the division, a variety of issues have led America down a path of political and ideological strife.
This division is the result of rapidly changing social and political values that were highlighted in the Presidential election: healthcare, racial issues, foreign affairs, populism, globalism, conservatism, liberal progressivism, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and many more. A record high number of Americans now believe this is the most divided time in American history. During the primary-stage of the election cycle, for example, a self-proclaimed socialist, Bernie Sanders, squared off against pro-market capitalist candidates in a clash of visions for the future.
In elections past, from Reagan’s “Morning Again in America” campaign to Obama’s “Yes we can” message, there has always been a sense of optimism about America’s future, regardless of which party won. 2016 was different. One could sense that both candidates – both sides – had nothing short of pure hatred for one another. This was apparent when the election had the lowest percentage of split ticket voting in a century, meaning a vast majority of Americans voted for one party for all offices on their respective ballots.
Post-election results showed just how different the heartland of America and the coastal cities were: the rural good ol’ boys versus the so-called “coastal elites.” The division was so palpable, The New York Times told the story of these “two Americas” in which they show two separate nations in both geography and culture. One example was the difference in television viewing habits from Duck Dynasty in the Heartland to Modern Family in two slivers along the West Coast in the Northeast and in a few major cities scattered across the nation.
The division is so bad that it has led to a quasi-fascist group that ironically calls itself “Antifascist Aktion” or “Antifa” for short, attacks and beats those who do not agree with their progressive, restrictive views of what America should be, claiming anyone who supported Donald Trump is a fascist, Nazi or what have you. The biggest battle to date being on the streets of Berkeley, California, the epicenter of the free-speech movement in the mid-1960s.
However, the Right is not without fault either in regards to the divisive nature of America today, with groups like the Alt-Right being present. Though not as violent as Antifa, the Alt-Right has been seen by some as a safe-haven of White Supremacists like Richard Spencer who want to create an all-white “ethno-state.”
This exponential widening of the rift in America is due to the political issues, but not in the way many citizens believe. Rather, the systemic division comes from the variety of unique cultures throughout the country. Colin Woodard mentions this in his write-up for Tufts University when discussing the “eleven nations” of America:
“The borders of my eleven American nations are reflected in many different types of maps—including maps showing the distribution of linguistic dialects, the spread of cultural artifacts, the prevalence of different religious denominations, and the county-by-county breakdown of voting in virtually every hotly contested presidential race in our history. Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities…”
Such a statement may lead to pessimism about America’s future, especially because of the fact that the United States is a nation that is far from homogenous in its population, culture, or beliefs.
So, what does the future look like? How do we all “get-along” without having to divide the nation any further? These are tough questions to answer. Unfortunately, it may not be as simple has holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” Americans need to discuss their differences as well as the future of the nation they all call home. Some may suggest new borders be drawn up to allow for these cultures to be their own nations. Hopefully, we don’t come to that extreme, but rather find a way to put our differences aside and put the “united” back in the United States of America.
Christian Aponte is a political activist in North Carolina.