Wednesday, February 10 , 2016, 3:23 pm | Fair 77º

Michael Barone: America Is Two Countries, Not on Speaking Terms

By Michael Barone | @MichaelBarone |

You know who won the election (or whether we face another Florida 2000), and as I write I don’t.

But whether President Barack Obama is re-elected to a second term or Mitt Romney is elected the 45th president, the contours of their support during this fiercely fought campaign show that we live in Two Americas.

The culturally cohesive America of the 1950s that some of us remember, usually glossing over racial segregation and the civil rights movement, is no longer with us and hasn’t been for some time.

That was an America of universal media, in which everyone watched one of three similar TV channels and newscasts every night. Radio, 1930s and 1940s movies, and 1950s and early 1960s television painted a reasonably true picture of what was typically American.

That’s not the America we live in now. Niche media has replaced universal media.

One America listens to Rush Limbaugh; the other to NPR. Each America has its favorite cable news channel. As for entertainment, Americans have 100-plus cable channels to choose from, and the Internet provides many more options.

Bill Bishop highlighted the political consequences of this in his 2008 book, The Big Sort. He noted that in 1976 only 27 percent of voters lived in counties carried by one presidential candidate by 20 percent or more. In 2004, nearly twice as many, 48 percent, lived in these landslide counties. That percentage may be even higher this year.

We’re more affluent than we were in the 1950s (if you don’t think so, try doing without your air conditioning, microwaves, smartphones and Internet connections). And we have used this affluence to seal ourselves off in the America of our choosing while trying to ignore the other America.

We tend to choose the America that is culturally congenial. Most people in the San Francisco Bay area wouldn’t consider living in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, even for much better money. Most Metroplexers would never relocate to the Bay Area.

There are plenty of smart and creative and successful people in both Americas. But they don’t like to mix with each other these days.

They especially don’t like to talk about politics and the cultural issues that, despite the prominence of economic concerns today, have largely determined our political allegiances over the last two decades.

One America tends to be traditionally religious, personally charitable, appreciative of entrepreneurs and suspicious of government. The other tends to be secular or only mildly religious, less charitable on average, skeptical of business and supportive of government as an instrument to advance liberal causes.

The more conservative America tends to be relatively cohesive. Evangelical Protestants and white Catholics make common cause; the 17th century religious wars are over. Southern or Northern accents don’t much matter.

That’s typical of the Republican Party, which has always had core support from people seen as typical Americans but who are not by themselves a majority in our always diverse country.

The more liberal America tends to be diverse. Like Obama’s 2008 coalition, it includes many at the top and at the bottom of the economic ladder.

That’s typical of the Democratic Party, a coalition of disparate groups — immigrant Catholics and white Southerners long ago, blacks and gentry liberals today.

President Ronald Reagan, speaking the language of the old, universal popular culture, could appeal to both Americas. His successors, not so much. President Obama, after an auspicious start, has failed to do so.

As a result, there are going to be many Americans profoundly unhappy with the result of this election, whichever way it goes. Those on the losing side will be especially angry with those whose candidate won.

Americans have faced this before. This has been a culturally diverse land from its colonial beginnings. The mid-20th century cultural cohesiveness was the exception, not the rule.

We used to get along by leaving each other alone. The Founders established a limited government, neutral on religion, allowing states, localities and voluntary associations to do much of society’s work. Even that didn’t always work: We had a Civil War.

An enlarged federal government didn’t divide mid-20th century Americans, except on civil rights issues. Otherwise, there was general agreement about the values government should foster.

Now the Two Americas disagree, sharply. Government decisions enthuse one and enrage the other. The election may be over, but the Two Americas are still not on speaking terms.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. Click here to contact him. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelBarone.

» on 11.06.12 @ 08:51 PM

Columnists like Barone and Malkin thrive on the divisiveness they sow. Four years of non-stop attacks on Obama by these ne’re do wells, under the leadership of the drug addled gasbag Limbaugh,  has helped foment the problems described here.

» on 11.07.12 @ 12:55 AM

Two Americas that don’t speak to each other? Look in the mirror, Mr. Barone. Just two days ago, when it was obvious to ANY objective observer of polls that Obama would be re-elected, Mr. Barone chose to see the data as showing that Romney would win a large electoral college majority. How?? It was never the case, but partisans like Mr. Barone can’t even make objective judgments anymore. How can we talk and compromise when we can’t even agree on conclusions from the SAME set of data.

» on 11.07.12 @ 12:35 PM

Wow. This couldn’t have been written better by a Nazi propagandist. This is Us, that is Them.

Here’s an exercise that you might not be able to push your flabby mind to do: take the red states and accumulate their total tax revenue contribution or GDP contribution. Then subtract from that the money they given in aid and support by the Federal government.

Now do the same for the blue states.

Here’s what the exercise will reveal: the majority of Republicans are, or live in communities that are, living off the aid and support of the federal government.

Conversely, the majority of Democrats are, or live in communities that are, net contributors to the support of others, mainly red state residents.

Now do the same exercise, but look at education levels. Or obesity, or whatever trait you want to use in the Us versus Them picture.

This will paint a pretty accurate picture of the “base” of each political party. In my view, the bulk of Republican votes are gotten from people who would suffer from the enactment of a GOP agenda, but they are too poorly educated to withstand the coercion and Us versus Them propaganda created by Barone and the Republican stink tanks. People like Joe the Plumber.

The remainder? Some people, like Barone, who think we were ever like Ozzie and Harriet, and fear any cultural change that separates us from that “ideal.” And, a lot of anti-union, anti-regulation, land grab thugs.

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