“There is no Red America and there is no Blue America. There is only the United States of America!” These are the famous words that launched then Senator Barak Obama’s rocket all the way to the Presidency of America. Little did the poor guy know that he will have to eat his words 15 years later, for it is indeed the Divided State of America, as all Americans now fully agree. In fact, that is the only point they all agree on! Just for the reference, Red and Blue are the colors of the Republican and Democratic parties respectively, in their two party system of government.
Funnily, they have taken strange animals as their party symbols—a donkey for the Democrats and an elephant for the Republicans. Ideologically, Democrats tend to be on the left of the center and liberal on the social issues while Republicans lean right and socially conservative. Both parties of course, have their various shades of ideological spectrums including some staunch extreme left and right proponents. This in itself is a pretty normal pattern for any democratic system, as either party will govern from the center when elected.
Well, these are not normal times and the words ‘normal, middle, compromise, mutual understanding and cooperation’ have gone out of the window all over the world, but especially so in America. The roots of this discord and divide in America are centuries old- from the days of the Civil war between the Northern Unionists and the Southern Confederates over the issue of slavery. However, the past ten years have really split that schism wide open and the American divide on every front—cultural, ideological, religious, racial, lifestyle, philosophical and economic—is wider than the Grand Canyon with no signs of understanding and compromise on either side.
America is indeed so divided, it might as well be two separate nations with nothing in common with each other than mutual hatred and disrespect. The Trump era has brought this divide in wide open-with hostility, contempt, and just wanting nothing to do with each other, like a quarreling couple seeking divorce.
All this must be shocking to many readers, including those who have visited America many times and never thought as such. So, what is this 'divide' we are talking about and how do we know it? Well, let’s see for ourselves.
The Blue America is roughly ‘bi-coastal’—East Coast States like New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, etc. with their top universities and knowledge based economy and the West Coast States like California, Oregon, Washington with their knowledge and creativity based economy. The Blue America is very urban, educated, sophisticated in the arts and culture and high earners [per capita income]. Their social attitudes tend to be liberal and accepting towards the immigrants, different cultures and lifestyles. They are more globalists, secular and less religious. These States are mostly run by the Democrats who are politically liberal.
One will rarely see Republican elected politicians here. The apex of knowledge, creativity, culture and finance-Harvard, Yale, Wall Street, the Broadway plus many Start Ups etc. are based there. The per capita income, education level and the resultant sophistication, level of achievement and drive are pretty high on the East Coast. Same is true of the West Coast.
Everybody knows California as THE hub of Start Ups and all the leading edge creativity. All the top IT and creativity based businesses are on the West Coast that again happens to be highly educated, sophisticated and solidly Democratic, socially liberal just like the East Coast. Together, those form the Blue Arc, the Democratic win machine that produced liberal Presidents like Clinton and Obama. The Blue States are multi cultural and most Indians [may be 80% of the NRIs] are settled in the Blue States.
The Red America is in the Middle and South—Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas, etc. rural and conservative States. These are predominantly agricultural States with mostly White farmers and low education/skill workers. The culture, accordingly, is more religion based [Evangelical Christians, a very conservative brand of Christianity], rural and local. Their education and income levels are substantially lower than those of the urban, knowledge based workers in the Blue States. Their lifestyles are also more suited to rural, land based environment--hunting, fishing and activities closer to the nature.
Rural communities tend to be more conservative and tradition based, not being exposed to the global trends that their urban counterparts are. There is also a major race factor that plays in the rural, Red American psyche. The Black African American slaves were mostly brought to the South to work on the agricultural fields under the mastery of the White farmers and landlords. They have thus grown with the notion of White superiority in the past and some cultural symbolism of that in the present.
Fast forward to the present days- a confluence of exponential technological changes, increased education and social awareness among the African Americans and a flood of migrants [mostly educated and higher earning] has stirred the centuries old social order like at no other time. The social, economic and cultural changes brought about by globalization, communication and transportation revolutions and exponential progress in technology have evened the playing field such that the old White superiority in many fields is changing rapidly and drastically.
The Blue America, being more socially liberal and with the knowledge based economy, is able to cope up with and in fact lead the change and thus benefit from it. Many foreigners like Indra Nooyi, Sunder Pichai and Salman Rushdie are leading such progress in various fields and making the Blue America richer, more inclusive and sophisticated.
The Red, rural America though, has a big problem coping with and accepting these rapid changes, let alone assimilating those. Being less educated and less equipped to cope with or profit from this tidal globalization, they feel afraid, insecure and lost, thus seeking mental security in tribal politics of White supremacy as a right and a throwback to the ‘old days’. They thus cling to their guns and religion as the safety blanket and comfort zone. They are squeezed from both ends—from the top, by educated immigrants who get all the well paying jobs because of the technical education and from the bottom by the Mexicans who do their menial jobs at a much cheaper rate, living frugally. There seems to be no clear or immediate solution to this dilemma and they feel lost or defeated.
Rational people look in the mirror to find fault or assign blame, but human tendency is to point fingers at others—It’s always ‘their’ fault! It’s the immigrants, African American or the urban elite that landed them in this mess, not their own doing! That frustration breeds hatred and a feeling of alienation when they realize there is no immediate or clear solution at hand.
Savvy politicians and strongmen like Trump always take advantage of such desperation of large masses and feed them the intoxicating mixture of victimhood, nationalism and false patriotism. The underlying ‘us vs. them’ battle lines harden and this is where we are in the divide between Red America vs. the Blue America.
To put this phenomenon in the numbers and proper context, the last election is a classic example. Hillary won 430 Counties [like Zillas in India] vs. Trump’s 2600, but the GDP of those urban 430 Counties is 2.5 times higher than all the 2600 rural Counties taken together that Trump won. The income number is also indicative of the difference and divide in their education, sophistication, creativity and liberal vs. conservative attitudes.
These might as well be two different planets. To top all this, the Blue States pay more in taxes that subsidize the Red states. Herein comes the reverse hatred when the urban Blue America feels that they subsidize Red America and on top of that, are ruled by them [as Trump won in 2016 and the Republicans are deciding the social and economic policies that deliberately disadvantage the urban areas].
The illogic of this frustrates the Democrats in Blue America to no end. There is thus a major divide between these Americas on every count—liberal, educated, multi-cultural, sophisticated, secular, global and well to do Blue America on one side vs. the conservative, less educated, poorer, religion and gun loving and mostly older White people in Red America, on the other.
As there is nothing common whatsoever between the Red and Blue Americas, both wish nothing more than getting away from each other. In fact, there is a lot more in common between Canada and Blue America; so it has been suggested to formalize this split with Blue America plus Canada as the United States of Canada and the rest of Red America as 'Jesusland' [a sarcastic reference to their ultraconservative Christian fundamentalist way of life]. It may sound like a lighthearted joke, but there is a lot more serious truth about it.
So, where do we go from here? Is there hope for any reconciliation or patch up? I don’t see any hope. In fact, the venom spewed by each side—Fox News berating the liberals and MSNBC pointing fingers at the conservatives has, if at all, hardened the battle lines. Trump, in his infinite 'wisdom', has poured oil in the fire, instead of any Statesmanlike conduct uniting the country. The collision course is thus set for the next years election when the Red vs. Blue split is so drastic that is has split friendships, families and the Nation.
Everything is partisan and the trust factor is gone. Red Americans feel more closeness with Russia and Saudi Arabia than with Blue America. On the other hand, Blue America would rather be with Canada and Europe than the rural, conservative Red America.
Attitudes toward religion and resultant religion based social policies may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. As Red America is cunningly installing ultraconservative judges in key position like the Supreme Court, abortion rights, LGBT rights and women’s issues are in danger. Blue America is mainly non religious.
In fact, 23% of Americas including 70% of young people don’t believe in any religion [a vast majority of them live in Blue America] and are very worried about the religion based rules being forced upon them. They believe in secularism and feel that their cultural values and lifestyle are in danger by and in Red America. Blue America, with women, young educated people and multi cultural, multi racial coalition is up in arms and determined to defeat the aggression by Red America on their values and lifestyle.
The Battle Royale is right around the corner in November 2020 where the winner of the Presidential election may just formalize the split that already exists. Hope the right side wins!
- Sunil Deshmukh
(Author is a U.S.A. based philanthropist and Corporate leader of Wall Street. He is the Originator of prestigious 'Maharashtra Foundation Awards for Literature and Social work'.)