The Issues that Divide Us (in the US at least)

I commented somewhere that the “issues” that divide the electorate today become more and more trivial the farther one zooms out to take a broader perspective of time and space. Issues so important at one time in history are irrelevant in others. Consider at random DC in 1960, New York in 1900, Paris in 1800, Bombay in 1700, and no doubt there were issues that divided their populations and drove partisan fighting. And I’m guessing that those issues have long since disappeared. Mostly having been resolved in progressive ways.

A corollary to this thought is that the “issues” themselves are almost beside the point. That a substantial portion of the population can spend so much time and energy worrying about abortion, say, or affirmative action, means that we live in an era when far larger problems, like infant mortality and slavery, have been resolved and have gone away. Getting worked up over abortion is a *luxury* of modern people whose far worse problems have been solved by past generations. That’s progress. (The further corollary is that when abortion is solved, say by perfecting contraception and preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place, conservatives and progressives will find issues to bicker about that would seem trivial to us today. There will always be tribalism, and bickering.)

So what divides the left and right in the US? Again, it’s not really about particular issues. It’s about different ways of life. The most obvious lesson of all the voting returns maps is that, even in the red states, blue votes are concentrated in big cities. What divides red and blue? Life in small towns where little changes from generation to generation and people like it that way; and think that small government is all that they need. Life in big metropolises, typically port cities of one type or another, that bring into contact people of many types who have to learn to get along with one another; cities where the innovations occur that require “big government” to coordinate and spread to the entire population: building the interstate highway system, putting a man on the moon, inventing the internet, or successfully managing a global pandemic. No collection of small town governments (let alone libertarian ones) would accomplish those things. (As indeed, the uncoordinated federal management of the coronavirus pandemic, in which each state is one its own, has led to the disastrous response of the US.) Those things require big governments, even worldwide cooperation, in ways that are the inevitable wave of the future, unless you want our global technological society to completely collapse.

This entry was posted in Culture, Social Progress. Bookmark the permalink.