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.

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7 Responses to Two-Nation America: A Message for Unity and Sanity

  1. AuntLeesie says:

    You’ve made some good points: I agree that the last election was based upon fear. In fact, no offense to any journalists, it seems media at large is helping to create an atmosphere of fear not only in America, but globally. Headlines have included what the fiscal cliff means to you, or what will happen if the EU fails; there’s been a lot of coverage of rioting in the streets in Greece, Syria and not so long ago, Great Britain… with questions of whether or not America is heading in that direction. Fear is a paralyzing and unproductive emotion. It can cause recessions–and has done so historically. It can lead to wars (ditto). Why, then, would anyone wish to help create an atmosphere of fear? Who or what benefits from the byproducts of fear? Those are questions we all ought to be asking on some level, because it seems most “news” on most days is aimed in one way or another to keep it humming along. We’re already being prepped for weeks’ worth of news about how the debt ceiling might not be lifted and our government left unable to pay its bills accordingly. Which will, of course, lead to more fear amongst consumers and businesses, sending the GDP (and individual spending) plummeting… just simple cause and effect.

  2. AuntLeesie says:

    I also agree that there’s far too wide a division between the political parties, which is (in part) contributing to a greater divide in America as a whole. Where I’ll respectfully disagree, is in how you’ve defined the gap as being about age and race… Country music versus Hip Hop. Plenty of white folks over the age of 60 voted for Obama (you’re related to a few), and plenty of young people voted for Romney (ditto). While Romney as an *individual* candidate did little or nothing to endear himself to minorities of any kind, it seems neither fair or rational to expect all Rebublicans mirror his views any more than it would to imagine President Obama is a living representative of all ethnicities. Having lived quite literally from coast to coast and back again, spending much of my 50 years in states like Kentucky, Wisconsin, Illinois, Virginia, Texas, Colorado and Ohio, with friends still living or working in NYC, Dallas, Chesapeake, etc. and family in Arkansas as well as California, I’d say most (if not all) polls are NOT an accurate measure of the people of the United States. It’s been my experience that our divisions have much less to do with age and enthicity than they do with geographical cuture and perception.

  3. AuntLeesie says:

    What are your perceptions of others? Would it surprise you to know that–depending on where I was living–I was perceived as being very liberal (in Texas) and quite conservative (in Colorado), with the same basic personal lifestyle in both places? Neither perception was accurate. Like most Americans I’ve met from coast to coast and back again over 50 years, I’m politically moderate, have always been registered “undeclared”, and have had a moderately conservative lifestyle. Born and raised Catholic, I’m a Christian… some Christians still have issue with Catholics due to perceptions about an unfamiliar style of worship, just as other faiths misunderstand Christians, and on and on. Our erroneous perceptions are what divide us as a nation. East and West coast city dwellers often think of folks in Texas, Oklahoma or Arkansas as “rednecks” or uneducated country bumpkins in the same way some in the Southwest assume every hispanic person is an illegal immigrant, or those in the upper midwest might assume an African American youth with baggy pants is “ganged up”. In the same way, your editorial shows a perception of Republicans as “old, rich, white men” and Democrats as “young, hip, minorities” by using the Country versus Hip Hop example. Perceptions can be (and often are) wrong, regardless of what polls say.

    The bottom line is that government and media have helped to create an atmosphere of fear, erroneous perceptions only serve to underpin our fears, and it all distracts away from a stark, harsh reality… the melting pot of middle class Americans is shrinking. We have the power to stop that, if we choose to do so. It’s called “accountability”. My generation seems to have failed to hold its own accountable; we’ve been known as the me generation. Your could turn the tide by throwing off perceptions, refusing to fuel national and global fears, utilizing social media to uncover TRUTH, and holding our leaders accountable for their actions or inactions.

    • rgriffit says:

      Thank you for your comments, you make some very good points. I would just like to say that I don’t think EVERY person fits neatly into two categories based on age or race, though I can see why you might get that impression. I was talking in generalities based on poll results. You brought up some very good factors I missed. I was ranting with text, and when I do that I tend to oversimplify and overlook things. For what it’s worth, when I talk about people being closed-minded, not listening, and so on, I’m complaining not only about others, but myself, too. These are things I’ve been working on in myself. I think what we all need to do more of is “imagining others complexly”. We need to accept that our own worldviews aren’t perfect, and other people’s worldviews are legitimate, too.

    • rgriffit says:

      In reply to your question of how I percieve things, I think most people don’t want to pick a side, but feel mounting social pressure to do so. I think that if we decide we’ve had enough, and resist the pressure to turn on each other, things will start to improve.

  4. AuntLeesie says:

    Thank you for all of your thoughts. In one case, age might make a difference in that I don’t feel pressured to pick a side… or perhaps more importantly, I’m comfortable ignoring social or media pressure? Oh, I get annoyed (even disgusted by it), as it seems to imply a lack of respect for differing opinions, but it doesn’t cause me to lose any sleep. There are more important things in my life at this point. Using your music analogy, I’m neither Country or Hip Hop… never have been… and that’s okay. There are many in America who prefer rock, or pop… Jimmy Buffet or jazz… Creole or classical… pick-a-genre. Our sum total is likely much more than either Country *or* Hip Hop, and it’s sad when we aren’t considered, as I think you’re trying to say?

  5. Pingback: More Things That Drive Us Crazy Explained by Economics « Cat Flag

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