There are two Americas. There is one America that imported slaves from Africa, had Jim Crow laws and legal segregation, that denied women and blacks the right to vote, forced Native Americans into small reservations, that helped topple democratically elected governments and propped up dictators, has a terrible record on human rights, has institutional discrimination, gender pay gaps, biased policed officers, the worst polluter on the planet, and treats migrants from the South inhumanely.
Then there is another America. One that was the first nation in the world to consider the abolition of slavery, allowed all religions to practice freely, where hundreds of thousands of white men died fighting to free black slaves, one that has a strong middle class and the highest economic opportunity for everyone, a nation that saved Europe from fascism not once but twice, saved the world from communism, and saved the Jews from complete annihilation. A nation that was the only nuclear power for a while and could have conquered the world in 1945, has stood up for human rights, freedom, and democracy everywhere, sacrificing blood and treasure, with nothing to gain. One that has made great strides in conservation and environmental protections.
In reality, there is just one America, but these two viewpoints of America more or less make up the divide that we all feel. There are those that see all of America’s faults, and those that see all of America’s decency and goodness.
While this is nothing new, for the last three years we have all listened to political pundits and intellectuals try to explain the divide. We have heard it is a divide of the urban and the rural, the rich and the poor, oppressed and the oppressors, those that have benefitted from technology and globalization and those left behind. These explanations may contribute to the divide because every opinion is based on perspective, but they don’t fully account for the outcome in politics.
President Obama exemplified the people who view America as flawed. He believed that the world and America would be a better place if America took less of a leadership role, was less powerful comparable to others, especially the more progressive European partners. It is difficult to explain many of the actions he took while in office without this thesis to make sense of it all, but he also directly said his point of view clearly in his exit interview in 2017 with Jeffery Goldberg at the Atlantic, “a weaker America is a better America.”
This was of course a reaction of the post-9/11 Bush administration that often went it alone on the world stage because the so called “Vulcans” believed America could do no wrong. This hubris lead to the disastrous exercise in nation building in Iraq and a loss of faith by our partners around the world. And after enough year’s of Obama’s actions to restrain American power, enough voters felt tired of apologizing for America’s previous transgressions and elected a man that sold a vision of a strong and unapologetic America.
Its a good book review. But I still think that America is different from Europe. We are okay with a multicultural society, as long as everyone is patriotic. The tribalism point is right, but our tribe is American, and anyone can be American. If immigrants came here wrapped in the stars and stripes, all would be welcome. But as Kaufman points out, the left sees whiteness as oppression, and white people inherently oppressive/bad, so it sets up a hostile dynamic from the start. And it probably seems to many that the immigrants want to come here for economic reasons, and don’t care about learning english, the freedoms our system provides, or integrating in anyway. Call white conservatives racist isn’t an argument for more immigration.
In the age of identity politics, this point of view on America’s history is often confused with racism, xenophobia, and sexism. If this was the case, then why would there be millions of hispanics that voted for Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in Florida, and proudly brandish the American flag, and millions of wealthy, educated white native born americans that want to transform a flawed America?
This trend could also be confused with positive versus negative, or optimism and pessimism. When polls have shown that recent immigrants and minorities are more optimistic about their white and native born counterparts.
There have been more divided times in the past. The civil war and post reconstruction era and Vietnam war eras both come to mind. If this trend continues to swing like a pendulum, further back and forth, as it has for the past 2 decades, my fear is that the nation will be consumed by this divide and it will swing further towards an electorate that dislikes America as it is. The real solution for all leaders and elected officials is to recognize both points of view, that America has made mistakes in the past, at the same time as being a beacon of hope and salvation for humanity. Only when we can reconcile these two points can our country begin to heal the divide.