Two-Nation America: A Message for Unity and Sanity

An Editorial

This is something I’ve been pondering for a while. Not only how to say it, but even if I should say it at all. After watching the absolutely ridiculous fiscal cliff fiasco, however, and now bracing for even more political battles next month and the accompanying uncertainty about whether our government will even be able to function, I feel it’s time I said something. Because enough is enough. This is just unacceptable.

I used to think that the problem was that both political parties are giving too much power to their extreme wings. I used to think that we needed cooler heads in Washington, D.C. and that if we just elected moderates who are willing to make deals for the greater good of the country, then things would get better.

However, I have now concluded that the radicalization of the Republican and Democratic parties is just a symptom of an even larger and deeper problem: The United States of America is no longer a nation. It is two.

I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment. But first, let me explain how I came to this conclusion.

First off, let’s consider last year’s presidential election. I’m sure there were plenty of people who were enthusiastic supporters of President Obama and Governor Romney. But the vibe I got from everyone I know, from political commentators on both sides of the spectrum, and from the campaigns themselves, was that 2012 was an election of fear. Obama voters feared what Romney and the Tea Party would do to this country; Romney voters feared what Obama and his policies and supporters would do to this country with four more years. What the choice came down to was, “What do you fear most?”

The answer to that question, as exit polls showed, demonstrates that we are now two nations. By overwhelming margins, my own generation, the Millenials, and Americans who are considered racial minorities decided that an America of “racist, sexist homophobes who only care about the rich” was the worse fate; by equally overwhelming margins, older, evangelical Christian voters who are considered “white” decided that an “immoral, socialist America of ‘takers'” was the worse fate.

Even America’s corporations are feeling huge pressure to take sides. Now, it’s no secret that corporations have always used their money behind-the-scenes to influence politics through lobbyists and campaign contributions, but these were always over matters that related to their business operations and it was always treated as something kept on the down-low. No business wants to lose huge numbers of customers boycotting their products over some political issue. Yet, last year Kraft Foods and Expedia came out publicly in favor of gay marriage, and Chick-fil-A came out publicly against it. Seriously, what does gay marriage have to do with cookies, chicken sandwiches, or hotel bookings? Is this some kind of trend we are now seeing, that everyone is now pressured to pick a side or else?

Yes. Yes, we now live in a world where compromise is treated as equal to surrender, where the other guy isn’t “some guy I disagree with”, but “the enemy”. Both sides have taken the attitude that, “We could fix all the problems in this country if the other side would just get out of the way and shut up.”

That is why Congress can’t get anything done. But Congress is only reflecting the changes in our society. We have become a two-nation America. So what does that mean?

Well, let’s look at the definition of a nation. According to Google’s dictionary, a nation is “A large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory.” The French theorist Ernest Renan elaborated on the idea of nationhood in his essay “What Is A Nation?”, arguing that nations are created by the people in that nation, a self-applied label that creates a community. He describes nationhood as “a daily referendum” to continue to identify each other as a nation and live together as a community.

Let’s consider each of these elements, so you can see what I’m talking about. Let’s call the two nations “country nation” and “hip-hop nation” to illustrate the differences, so you can visualize what I’m talking about.

Toby Keith image from 123tagged

Jay-Z image from Black Enterprise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Common descent – “Country nation” is very much a “white” nation. While it includes people of other ancestries, of course, it’s self-image is fundamentally one where European descent is dominant or the most important. “Hip-hop nation” not only has far more people who identify as non-white, but also is far more accepting of its mixed ancestral heritage.
  2. Common history – Right now, there are two narratives about U.S. history that are competing for acceptance as “the” narrative in our schools and public perception. “Country nation” prefers the traditional narrative that from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, America’s history has been one of progress enlightening a dark continent and creating the greatest nation on Earth. “Hip-hop nation” prefers the version that goes “What about slavery? What about the genocide of Native Americans? What about the people who were oppressed by industrialization and struggled to survive in absolute poverty until the government began fighting back against the robber barons?”
  3. Common culture – Culture has two parts: material culture (the physical objects associated with culture, like baseballs and apple pies) and values. It is of values where the real differences emerge between these two nations. “Country nation” believes in personal responsibility, the importance of religion and tradition, and the independent, entrepreneurial spirit. They view the government with skepticism, and believe that people are better off when left to their own devices to make their way in the world. “Hip-hip nation” believes in social justice and equal opportunity for all, and believes that much of our current system of politics and economics fails to protect these values. They believe that helping the poor and protecting the environment are social duties.
  4. Common language – You will hear members of “country nation” complaining about the signs in Wal-Mart being in Spanish as well as English far more often than members of “hip-hop nation”.

Lastly, let’s address that “daily referendum” idea. How many times have you heard talk of “real Americans”? Or of something being “un-American”? After President Obama won re-election, the official White House public forums were flooded with petitions for people in this or that state to secede from the Union. Under President Bush, it was always liberals talking about moving to Canada. Think about the logic here. People are saying, “It is easier for me to leave the country altogether than to adapt to current circumstances.”

The worst part is that it’s only going to get worse from here. Why? Demographics. The same groups that voted for President Obama last year are the groups that now have a slim majority, and are growing. The groups that voted for Mitt Romney are the ones that are shrinking with each passing year. This means that the temptation is going to be really strong for hip-hop nation to just ignore and steamroll right over country nation, on the idea that “They don’t matter any more. They’re irrelevant.” Meanwhile, country nation is going to be in a desperate fight to block hip-hop nation wherever they can, because they know it’s “now or never” time – the statistics are against them. This will only lead to more tension, gridlock, and conflict as time goes on.

BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t know how we became two nations, but we need to come together and become one nation again. As the old saying goes, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

We are reaching a major turning point as a society. Our days as “top dog” on the global food chain are numbered, as China, India, Brazil, and other countries begin to emerge as major powers. Our current way of life is not ecologically sustainable, and as more people around the world try to reach our level of affluence, there will is going to be a crunch on our planet’s resources. And all of this is going on as our economy struggles to recover from the recession and we are trying to wind down the war in Afghanistan responsibly. There are many, many issues we have to address, and eternal brinkmanship over every minor issue is not going to fix it.

Country nation is NOT a bunch of racist, sexist homophobes who only care about the rich. Hip-hop nation is NOT a bunch of immoral, socialist “takers”. And just because you don’t agree with somebody doesn’t mean they are some cackling Saturday morning cartoon supervillain out to “destroy America”. Take a deep breath, and think of him or her as a person, just like you, with many complex motivations and observations that interconnect complexly. Maybe you could try listening to him or her instead of trying to outshout him or her.

To hip-hop nation, I say this: Don’t discount or reject religion, tradition, personal responsibility, or the entrepreneurial spirit. It was these values that helped make America so great.

To country nation, I say this: trying to protect social justice and equal opportunity for all does not mean the same thing as getting rid of capitalism and democracy. Trying to protect the poor and the environment is perfectly compatible with your values.

To both, I say this: We are not enemies. We are the UNITED States of America, in a perpetual quest to form a more perfect union. You have great ideas about how to address our nation’s many issues, and so do other people. Let’s build a spirit of listening and sharing, instead of forcing our way or the highway. I think you will find we all have far more in common than you think.