How and Why a Liberal Columnist Thinks America is Splitting Apart
Get ready for the “Great Divergence.”
Ron Brownstein has long been a fairly prominent, albeit not particularly sharp liberal pundit and he has written several pieces about the “Great Divergence” he sees happening in America. It’s always interesting to see what people on the other side of the divide think about this idea, but as per usual when you read these kinds of pieces from the Left, there’s such a lack of awareness of how their own actions are pushing America towards a split that it seems almost pathological.
Brownstein goes in a lot of different directions in this piece and probably the best way to cover them adequately is to cover what he has written one excerpt at a time. That will make things a bit choppy, but we’ll do what we have to do. Let’s start here:
“The structural attacks on our institutions that paved the way for Trump’s candidacy will continue to progress,” Podhorzer argues, “with or without him at the helm.” All of this is fueling what I’ve called “the Great Divergence” now under way between red and blue states. This divergence itself creates enormous strain on the country’s cohesion, but more and more even that looks like only a way station. What’s becoming clearer over time is that the Trump-era GOP is hoping to use its electoral dominance of the red states, the small-state bias in the Electoral College and the Senate, and the GOP-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to impose its economic and social model on the entire nation—with or without majority public support. As measured on fronts including the January 6 insurrection, the procession of Republican 2020 election deniers running for offices that would provide them with control over the 2024 electoral machinery, and the systematic advance of a Republican agenda by the Supreme Court, the underlying political question of the 2020s remains whether majority rule—and democracy as we’ve known it—can survive this offensive.
I have nothing good to say about the Jan 6. riot, but I will note that 15 Proud Boys and Oath Keepers charged (not convicted) of seditious conspiracy, a few dozen violent rioters, and hundreds of dopes wandering around the Capitol like they were on a Disney ride does not an insurrection make. It’s also worth pointing out that the “structural attacks on our institutions” have come from both sides and at least when it comes to conservative complaints, have usually been driven by the poor performance or political bias of those institutions.
We also must note that if any objective observer were picking a party that was trying to impose its, “economic and social model on the entire nation—with or without majority public support,” it would be the Democrats, not the Republicans. The Roe vs. Wade decision is a perfect example of that. After almost fifty years of forcing states that had a moral objection to Roe to allow abortion, the court essentially said, “We’re punting this back to you guys. Each state can do what it wants.” What Brownstein is really objecting to is not that he’s going to be forced to live in a way he doesn’t like, but that liberals are not going to be able to force people in red states to live the way that liberals think they should. It’s almost a nobleman’s way of looking at government. “We have the natural right to rule you! How dare you tell us ‘No,’ peasant?” It also reminds me of something my friend, Inez Stepman tweeted:
Measured that way, the red nation houses slightly more of the country’s eligible voting population (45 percent versus 39 percent), but the blue nation contributes more of the total U.S. gross national product: 46 percent versus 40 percent. On its own, the blue nation would be the world’s second-largest economy, trailing only China. The red nation would rank third. (Podhorzer also offers a slightly different grouping of the states that reflects the more recent trend in which Virginia has voted like a blue state at the presidential level, and Arizona and Georgia have moved from red to purple. With these three states shifted into those categories, the two “nations” are almost equal in eligible voting-age population, and the blue advantage in GDP roughly doubles, with the blue section contributing 48 percent and the red just 35 percent.)
This is worth addressing because it’s the equivalent of the “If there’s a Civil War, we have the guns and food, so we’ll win easy” argument you hear from some less sophisticated people on the Right. Even setting aside the difficulty of calculating something like this, it’s an always-moving target. Not only can you quibble about which states should be included on each side, but we’ve also already started to see an exodus of companies from wealthy states like New York and California to much more business-friendly states like Texas and Florida. People that earned 21 billion dollars worth of income moved out of New York City alone early on in the pandemic. That seems likely to accelerate in the coming years because of the massive tax burden and crushing regulations in the bluest states. The new Silicon Valley in America is Austin, Texas. People in red states across the country are complaining about the hordes of blue staters moving in. Maybe the blue states are ahead economically right now. Even if that’s true, gambling it will still be true in ten years seems like a bad bet.
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Per capita spending on elementary and secondary education is almost 50 percent higher in the blue states compared with red. All of the blue states have expanded access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, while about 60 percent of the total red-nation population lives in states that have refused to do so. All of the blue states have set a minimum wage higher than the federal level of $7.25, while only about one-third of the red-state residents live in places that have done so. Right-to-work laws are common in the red states and nonexistent in the blue, with the result that the latter have a much higher share of unionized workers than the former. No state in the blue section has a law on the books banning abortion before fetal viability, while almost all of the red states are poised to restrict abortion rights if the Republican-appointed Supreme Court majority, as expected, overturns Roe vs. Wade. Almost all of the red states have also passed “stand your ground” laws backed by the National Rifle Association, which provide a legal defense for those who use weapons against a perceived threat, while none of the blue states have done so. The flurry of socially conservative laws that red states have passed since 2021, on issues such as abortion; classroom discussions of race, gender, and sexual orientation; and LGBTQ rights, is widening this split. No Democratic-controlled state has passed any of those measures.
Brownstein comes back to this point and again, if you’re part of the “leave me alone,” crowd (which seems to encompass most conservatives), it’s hard to see why this is an issue. Admittedly, as a conservative, there are liberal laws that bother me. Defunding the police, allowing rioters to run wild, allowing shoplifting, draconian taxes, letting the homeless crap in the street, etc. On the other hand, as long as we’re talking about something that’s constitutional, it’s like, “I don’t live there and if people want to live like that, I feel sorry for them, but that’s their problem, not mine.” The mindset liberals like Brownstein have is more than a little bit totalitarian and although they’d never admit it, I suspect part of the reason they’re so hellbent on forcing everyone to adopt the policies they like the best is that on some level, they know they don’t work very well. Ultimately, if there’s an honest comparison between alternatives, it’s not going to look so good for them. (See Florida’s COVID policies vs. the policies in states like New York, New Jersey, and California for example. Liberals will still tell you that their policies were best, but when people were able to vote with their feet, which citizens were going to what states?)
With some complex but telling statistical calculations, he documents a return to historical patterns from the Jim Crow era in which the dominant party (segregationist Democrats then, conservative Republicans now) has skewed the playing field to achieve a level of political dominance in the red nation far beyond its level of popular support. Undergirding that advantage, he argues, are laws that make registering or voting in many of the red states more difficult, and severe gerrymanders that have allowed Republicans to virtually lock in indefinite control of many state legislatures. Grumbach reached a similar conclusion in a recent paper analyzing trends in small-d democracy across the states. “It’s a really stacked deck in these states because of this democratic backsliding,” Grumbach said.
Both parties heavily engage in gerrymandering at every opportunity. The idea that it’s just something Republicans do is something liberals often try to promote, but it’s entirely untrue. To the extent that there’s any difference at all between the two parties on that issue, it tends to either be a result of Democrats being densely packed into cities or majority/minority districts that have to be created in some states because of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) that lead to more black representation in Congress, at the price of potentially losing some potential black votes from neighboring districts.
It seems unlikely that the Trump-era Republicans installing the policy priorities of their preponderantly white and Christian coalition across the red states will be satisfied just setting the rules in the places now under their control. Podhorzer, like Mason and Grumbach, believes that the MAGA movement’s long-term goal is to tilt the electoral rules in enough states to make winning Congress or the White House almost impossible for Democrats. Then, with support from the GOP-appointed majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans could impose red-state values and programs nationwide, even if most Americans oppose them. The “MAGA movement is not stopping at the borders of the states it already controls,” Podhorzer writes. “It seeks to conquer as much territory as possible by any means possible.”
This take seems like pure projection. There’s no question that conservatives like me would like to convince people across the country, including in blue states, that small government, conservatism, Christianity, capitalism, and embracing the Constitution is the path to success, but I don’t see much evidence that there’s an effort to, “conquer as much territory as possible by any means possible” on the Right. On the other hand, keep in mind that if Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema hadn’t stopped them, Democrats had all sorts of anti-Democratic measures planned. They wanted to get rid of the filibuster for legislation, stack the Supreme Court, pass a bill that would nationalize elections and make it easier for Democrats to cheat in elections (For the People Act), and turn DC and Puerto Rico into states solely to get new Democratic Senators. As we speak, the Biden administration is facilitating the entry of millions of illegal aliens into the United States in hopes that they can later turn them into future Democratic voters. If you were trying to come up with a guarantee that Americans couldn’t live with each other long-term, you couldn’t do much better than passing that agenda.
If you really want to know why there’s a “Great Divergence” in America that could ultimately lead to the demise of the country, you should look to the radicalization of the Left, particularly in the last decade. Taking kids to drag shows. Promoting transsexuality and the gay lifestyle to small kids. Demanding that biological men be allowed in women’s bathrooms, women’s prisons, and women’s sports. Claiming that America is systemically racist and smearing Republicans as “white supremacists.” Fighting to keep our borders open. Spending money at a clip never seen before in history. Trying to hinder oil production, even during a massive gas crunch. Openly championing censorship. Trying to ruin the lives of people that didn’t want to take a brand-new vaccine that didn’t even prevent the transmission of the virus. Allowing criminals and rioters to break the law at will without punishment.
These aren’t just alternate ideas, they’re mental illnesses masquerading as political policies. Ultimately, if half the country believes in these things and half the country doesn’t, then the “United States” are probably destined to split. That’s not a good thing or something anyone should want to see, but at some point, for a nation to hold together and thrive, there have to be some underlying values shared by most of the people. Those beliefs and policies listed in the last paragraph aren’t ever going to be it. Either we need to find a way to bridge that gap or embrace state’s rights like never before. If not, then realistically, our country is probably doomed to break apart.