WASHINGTON — For years the United States has drifted apart, less a single country and more an uncomfortable marriage of wildly disparate cultural and political entities, a red America and a blue America with starkly different realities about masks and vaccines , gun rights and voting rights, Donald Trump and the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
Now the chasm can open even wider. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, as she seems poised to do, all 50 states will suddenly be free to make their own rules, leading to an America where abortion is guaranteed and one where it’s banned – and, in some cases, helping someone cross state lines to obtain one could become a crime.
Already in the days following the leak of a draft decision toppling Roe, governors and state legislators have raced to define the values of their distinct Americas. While California Governor Gavin Newsom pledged to change his state’s constitution to protect the right to abortion, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed new abortion-banning legislation after six weeks. Calls for state legislatures to address the issue in special sessions have proliferated on both sides of the divide.
The map showing both states willing to ban abortions if the Supreme Court allows them and states building protections for the procedure into their own laws looks surprisingly familiar in this season of schism. It would fit perfectly on top of maps showing state policies on the pandemic or state repression against critical race theory or, for that matter, the Electoral College map of recent presidential elections. The populated northeast, mid-Atlantic coast, and west coast form one like-minded block, while the south and most of the mountain west form another, with the Midwest split between them.
“These are two different worlds — hostile, suspicious of each other, and assuming bad intentions,” said Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican strategist and co-director of the Dornsife Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California, who studied political polarization. . “It’s become totally tribal. There are no more opponents. Everyone is an enemy.
Inasmuch as President Joe Biden was elected on a promise to bring the country together, a hope that both liberals and conservatives viewed as naïve, he appears to have put that commitment aside, at least for now. In the wake of the leaked draft abortion ruling, he attacked America’s Trump faction in a way he has mostly avoided until now.
“This MAGA mob is truly the most extreme political organization that has ever existed in American history, in recent American history,” Biden said this week.
Jen Psaki, her publicist, reinforced this Friday, citing Republican efforts to ban abortion. “According to him, this is also another example of the ultra-MAGA agenda,” she said.
Biden still brags about the bipartisan support he got for last year’s public works spending package, as he did in Ohio on Friday, where he praised U.S. Senator Rob Portman , a retired Republican, and recalled the days when senators from both parties could debate civilly. “Things have changed,” he said. “We have to bring him back.”
But aides noted that, with control of Congress on the line in this fall’s midterm elections, he had a responsibility to campaign vigorously to explain to the public the consequences of switching parties on Capitol Hill.
The White House’s emerging strategy is to refocus attention on high inflation in stark contrast to Trump’s party, warning that the Democrats’ exit will put Congress in the hands of the party of far-right figures such as as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a feisty former QAnon follower known for making racist and anti-Semitic slurs and casting doubt on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Conservatives were quick to seize on Biden’s language this week to accuse him of betraying his own promises. “President Unity declares war on half of America,” said Breitbart News, a far-right website, in a headline on a homepage that regularly wage war on the other half.
Five of the last six presidents have talked about bridging the American divide without much success. George HW Bush called for a “kinder and gentler nation”, Bill Clinton promised to be the “Fixer of the Breach”, George W. Bush called himself a “unifier, not a divider” and Barack Obama said there was no blue America and red America but “the United States of America”.
David Axelrod, who was Obama’s chief strategist, said that if he could speak to himself in 2004, when the future president gave that famous speech at the Democratic National Convention, he would say, “It’s harder than it looks.
Society has only been torn apart more in the past 18 years, both through cultural shifts and through political and financial incentives to exploit divisions, he said. “Toppling Roe would accelerate those divisions and widen that chasm in ways that seemed unthinkable in 2004,” Axelrod said.
Trump, of course, was the presidential outlier, the only modern-day Oval Office occupant who didn’t even pretend to endorse the idea of bringing the country together. Instead, he relentlessly promoted divisiveness, seeking to punish Democratic voting states and portraying blue America as a dystopian hell for which he had no responsibility.
The United States has rarely been as united as its name; Polarization has been in the country’s DNA from the start, exploding most explosively in the mid-19th century due to slavery and again in the mid-20th century due to desegregation. But even so, the past two decades have seen a fragmentation that, in some ways, has been among the most pronounced in American history.
A study found that Democrats and Republicans in Congress are further apart ideologically than at any time in the past half-century. Public opinion about its presidents has become more divided along partisan lines than at any time in polling history. House districts have become so rock-solid Liberal or Conservative that only a few dozen will be truly competitive in this fall’s election.
“Really, in all areas of politics, you see evidence of partisan polarization,” said Carroll Doherty, director of policy research at the Pew Research Center.
Increasingly, Americans are separating into their own safe spaces – geographically, culturally, ideologically, factually and metaphorically. Not only do they stick to news channels or social media accounts that reinforce their views, but they choose to live and socialize with those who share their views.
In 1960, 4% of Democrats and Republicans said they would be unhappy if their children married someone from the other party. Today, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, that number has risen to 35% among Republicans and 45% among Democrats. In just four years, the Institute for Family Studies has found, marriages in America between Republicans and Democrats have dropped by half. Indeed, in 2016, only 9% of marriages involved couples from opposite parties; by 2020, that figure had fallen to just 4%.
Lilliana Mason, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s SNF Agora Institute, said her research shows Americans don’t even want to live next door to someone on the other side. “Our realities are becoming different. The people we surround ourselves with have completely different accounts of what is happening in America,” she said.
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Mason, who released his latest book Friday, “Radical American Partisanship: Mapping Violent Hostility, Its Causes, and the Consequences for Democracy,” written with Nathan P. Kalmoe, said the fragmentation of abortion laws in an America post-Roe would only exacerbate these trends as people sought to live in states where they agreed with the new laws.
“The fact that we’ve moved away physically makes us hate each other more,” she said. “It’s easy to dehumanize someone you’ve never met. It encourages the kind of us versus them thinking that creates this huge election stake – if they win the election, it’s all over.
Americans’ views on abortion are actually more nuanced than the black-and-white politics surrounding the issue suggest. Today’s Republican candidates and office holders are less likely to support rape exceptions or even protect maternal health, while today’s Democratic politicians are less likely to support limits taxpayer funding for abortions.
But new research released Friday by the Pew Center showed that although a strong majority of Americans opposed Roe’s repeal, their attitudes became fractured depending on the issue. Only 19% say abortion is legal in all cases, while 42% want it to be legal in most cases but would accept some cases where it is illegal. Only 8% wanted it to be illegal in all cases, while 29% wanted it to be illegal in most cases but would accept some circumstances where it would be legal.
“It’s an issue where there are absolutists — people who say abortion should be legal everywhere or abortion should be illegal everywhere — but most Americans have less absolutist views about it,” said Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research at Pew. .
Nuance, however, is not on the agenda. In Blue America or Red America, the loudest voices tend to dominate the conversation. Roe’s reversal, should it occur, will likely fuel this trend. “It’s a really polarizing feeling,” Mason said. “It’s a huge disagreement that the Americans have right now.”
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