The Right Opinion

America Is Two Countries, Not on Speaking Terms

By Michael Barone · Nov. 7, 2012

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

But whether 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.

Ronald Reagan, speaking the language of the old, universal popular culture, could appeal to both Americas. His successors, not so much. Barack 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.



Capt. Call in New Mexico said:

The MSM has called the election for Obama. If we thought things were bad before this day, we haven't seen anything yet. Both Americas lost tonight; we have fallen from freedom to slavery. God help us; He's the only one who is able.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:32 AM

India in GA replied:

Amen to that, Capt. Call. Like many others, I prayed that God would be with us during this election; and for His will to be done. I do believe that He "sets up kings and removes kings".

Having said that, I think we may have re-elected our own Nebuchadnezar.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 2:21 AM

Jayve in ABQ, NM replied:

The ONLY thing that gives me some comfort in all of this is to know that God is in control and I pray that he helps us all in this impending doom that awaits.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 10:29 AM

The American in Columbus, Ohio replied:

For a stunningly frank and true view on the destruction of our United States of America, please read Joan Fischer's Patriot Post column, dated November 7, 2012, and titled,
“November 6, 2012: A Day That Will Live in Infamy”

If you don't already have tears in your eyes now, you will.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:59 PM

Richard of CT in Cheshire, CT said:

Well, I truly did not believe my fellow Americans could be this stupid. Four more years of a lame brain, community organizer, bought and paid for by the Chicago Machine, George Soros and the Hollywood 'elite'!!

You get what you deserve.

Thanks for selling our once beautiful Republic to the Communist Chinese and for ending the American Dream. Never again will we ever be held in the high esteem we once were. The whole world is laughing at us, and you probably think it is applause!

For those of you that fought the good fight over these past months and weeks, thanks for trying.
I hope you survive the dark night that is about to envelope us, with a few more super liberal appointments to the SCOTUS, more Executive orders that will strip us of our freedom and liberty, and if you happen to be over 65 you can forget about receiving the kind of healthcare your parents enjoyed.

Oh, and our grandkids will be paying the bill for this until the day they die.
Peasants and serfs is what we will be, on the Obama Plantation.
Hope and Change has morphed into Rope and Chains!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 2:42 AM

The American in Columbus, Ohio replied:


While I understand that we, as Americans, ". . . get what you deserve," I damn well know I didn't get what I deserved! I am stunned and amazed, but not in the good way. I weep for the, My America!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:17 PM

The American in Columbus, Ohio replied:

Sorry, it was supposed to say:

I weep for thee, My America!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:18 PM in sc said:

Amen, Richard. I am horrified and heartsick. God help us.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 6:58 AM

Brian in Newport News said:

So we have two Americas with totally incompatible ideals. What is the solution? Do you think it is time for some states to secede?

Our own Declaration of Indepedence tells us "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of (our inalienable rights), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Is that time not now? And if not, how much more damaging must it be?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 7:22 AM

MIResident in Michigan replied:

Well at some point in the next 4 years, the flood gates of inflation and interest rates will burst - there's too many dollars sloshing around - and as we continue to add Trillions to debt, debt holders will begin to demand higher rates - so the Fed's ability to artifically hold rates down will be eliminated and rates will jump. I won't be surprised to see gold at $5k or $10k ounce in the next couple of years.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 9:19 AM

Diana Westover in Houston, TX replied:

I am hearing a lot of succession talk here at my office this morning. People do not want Obamacare, taxes and a President who can't or won't work with the congress. Not in my circle anyway.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 11:09 AM

The American in Columbus, Ohio replied:

Wow, I was already bummed as hell, but then Richard had to remind me of something I was afraid Obama, as a lame duck might do, that being his probability of nominating more super liberal appointments to the SCOTUS!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:21 PM

Orf in Pennsylvania said:

Is it time of a replay of Atlas Shrugged? Wouldn't that be better than another civil war? What other options do patriots have? How about state nullification of Constitutionally illegal laws like Obamacare?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 9:55 AM

Tad Petrie in Westerville, Ohio said:

It is amazing how history repeats itself! Mr. Barone is correct, America is sharply divided, but is different from the kind of division we had in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War. The USA and The CSA were alike in that they were both capitalist countries with the same goals, prosperity for their citizens and the freedom to choose their own destiny. The difference was their chosen method of producing wealth to achieve those goals. The division in America today is more like the differences between East and West Germany; the only thing that is missing is the armed inner border between the 2 opposing factions. Decades of liberal doctrine have created generations of Americans who are enslaved to government entitlements. 1 in 7 Americans are on foodstamps, just over half of working age Americans pay no federal income tax, and liberal politicians are working every day to increase the number of Americans that are enslaved to government entitlements. On the other side, we have the less than half of working age Americans that are being taxed into oblivion to pay for it! This is a system that CANNOT continue, like President Lincoln said in 1858, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." The question we have to ask ourselves is. Are we going to do anything about it before we return to where we were in 1861? It happened once, it CAN happen again!!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:14 PM

JT in Michigan said:

We are definitely not on speaking terms and as far as I'm concerned the other Amerika can go straight to hell. First state to secede I am moving there to fight for independence! I am convinced now more than ever that a second civil war is on the horizon and it will make the first one look like a bar fight. This will not end well, but it will end.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 4:43 PM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA replied:

How can one be on speaking terms when the other side threatens all kinds of violence if their man loses?

Headlines from the past 10 days:

Stacey Dash casts vote for Romney; Vicious Left says ‘Die bitch,’ ‘hope you get shot Uncle Tom’
Wisconsin Senator's Son Beaten to Pulp by Anti-Romney Thugs
Liberals on Twitter make fresh threats to murder Mitt Romney after final debate
Obama supporters on Twitter issue threats to kill Mitt Romney on eve of election
Obama Supporters Continue Threats To Riot, Assassinate Romney

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 7:26 PM

Bill in Texas replied:

I would suggest you come to Texas my friend. We will probably be the first to remove ourselves from the United States, and also be one of the few who would be able to sustain ourselves. Fighting for that independence however, we won't have to fight. Texas was first an independent republic and when we joined the union, it was written into that treaty that we as a republic have the right to remove ourselves at our decision. I for one wonder how long the United States could last without Texas. Would be interesting to see.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 9:50 PM