Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Other America: 2013

"People do not believe lies because they have to, but because they want to.”

--Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990)  

So here we are. To vastly oversimplify, America is divided into two supertribes, red for conservatives and blue for liberals (because the left is frightened of being called “red”). Red for Republicans, blue for Democrats (see map, colored red for Romney congressional districts, blue for districts carried by Obama).  

How did we get here? In 1964-68, civil rights and the Vietnam war blew up the country, and when the debris settled, liberal Democrats and the welfare state had lost. Conservatives had the upper hand from 1968 to 2004, especially if one concedes that Clinton, who shared power with a Republican congress for six years, truly meant his 1996 state of the union pronouncement that “the era of big government is over.” In a time of conservative domination, liberals gained power only when conservatives failed to tend to the economy (Carter, 1976; Clinton, 1992).

Race put the conservatives on top.  New Deal white working class Democrats, frightened by rising crime, disgusted by a federal government determined to force blacks into their schools and neighborhoods, and resenting having their taxes finance welfare programs for minorities, abandoned the party that once cherished them to vote for Republicans Nixon, Reagan, and two Bushes (1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004).

But today, with race still a major issue, the roles have reversed. Barack Obama, our first non-white leader, has stitched together a supertribe of government-related white liberals, government employees, unmarried women, minorities, and youth who vote Democratic even when the Democrats’ economy doesn’t work.

So it seems that by 2016, America will have marked 50 years of division significantly based on race. The two sides don’t talk to each other; rather they are tribes that converse, work, and play among their own, that even live in separate parts of cities, states, and the country. Each now have their own sources of information, their own cultures, their own religions. Maybe this isn’t such a surprise. After all, we are a nation first sharply divided by slavery, then by its segregation aftermath. It’s our history.  

What to do? I’m still trying to understand the depth of what seems an unhealthy division. Last year, science taught us that in their drive to survive, humans have learned to be biased against those who 1)  are inconsistent and 2) operate outside their own tribe. These instincts help keep our divisions sharp and continuing. Ronald Bailey, in the libertarian journal Reason, told us:
people cling to selected “facts” as a way to justify their beliefs about how the world works. [Samuel Arbesman, author of the new book The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date,] notes, “We persist in only adding facts to our personal store of knowledge that jibe with what we already know, rather than assimilate new facts irrespective of how they fit into our worldview.” All too true; confirmation bias is everywhere.
Discouraging. I myself fell into "confirmation bias" when I missed that which Obama’s folks understood--race would hold Obama’s 2008 coalition together in 2012, even though Obama failed to fix the economy. A year ago, I incorrectly reasoned that the blue supertribe included large numbers of minorities hit hard by unemployment who would vote their pocketbooks over tribal loyalty, thereby turning Democrats out of power. Only last September did I finally realize minorities most affected by unemployment would stick with Obama anyway. As they did.

So it seems tribal loyalties set over half a century may continue to trump America’s poor economy as the factor determining minority, unmarried female, and other votes. Our divisions are deep. Crossing over the bridge separating us--very difficult.

No comments: