Charles M. Blow and Thomas B. Edsall have complementary pieces in the N.Y. Times today. A Nation Divided Against Itself is Blow noting that America seems to be dividing up into two separate nations, while Edsall looks at alternative explanations for Our Broken Social Contract.
Both pieces are interesting, illuminating even - but both seem to have a certain incompleteness to the picture they paint. It's as though there is a line they do not want to cross in their commentary on the growing disunion in America. I wonder what that could be...
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
Both of the Times columnists start out with a similar premise. Blow begins with:
Along with — and because of — dramatic social and demographic changes, America is quickly dividing itself into two separate nations, regional enclaves of rigid politics, as the idea of common national priorities fades further into a distant past.
Edsall takes a similar tack with:
Many Americans think that their country has lost its way. But when they try to make sense of what’s happening, they disagree about whether the problem is essentially economic or whether it stems from cultural and moral decay.Blow goes on to cite a number of areas where America seems to be dividing up into separate camps on a variety of issues. Edsall takes a more detached view, citing competing explanations. (Although you have to wonder about someone who can quote David Brooks in all apparent seriousness.) Blow concludes by observing that:
This means we’re now at a point where people may not worry as much about all of America as about their slice of America. In the tumult and transition of change, we may be becoming a nation divided against itself.
Edsall goes a bit further:
Earlier this month, Obama acknowledged America’s uphill struggle on this score.”Too many middle-class families still feel like they’re working harder and harder and can’t get ahead,” he said. ”Inequality is still growing in our society.”Ya think?
If these trends continue, and most evidence suggests they will, one of the central ironies of the Obama years will be that a Democratic administration committed to pushing back against the unjust distribution of resources and to the promotion of morally cohesive communities will in fact have overseen an eight-year period of social disintegration, inequality and rising self-preoccupation.
This is not the legacy the Obama administration wants to leave.
The curious thing about both of these commentaries is that neither of them questions what might be driving this growing disunion, or entertains the notion that all of the problems they cite might just arise from more than the operation of vast impersonal forces. They don't appear to even consider the idea that for some interests, all of these problems are actually advantageous.
I happened to pen a comment on Blow's piece that could as well apply to Edsall's as well. Whether or not it gets cleared by the Times, here's the observation I offered up to supply the missing hypothesis:
What you are looking at is a civil war in slow motion.If the country is coming apart and dividing up, it is in large part because there is an organized effort to make it happen by those with the wealth and power to do so. It works to their advantage. There are competing visions for what America should be - but only one side seems to be putting real muscle (and money) into it. Charles P. Pierce noted the other day that Obama's legacy so far seems to have been largely a reaction to undoing the 'accomplishments' of the Clinton presidency.
It's being driven by the power of concentrated wealth deliberately poisoning our political process with a divide and conquer strategy, and it has largely subsumed the Republican Party into an extremist parody of itself.
The very idea of an America united under a federal government is being demolished by a state by state, region by region effort to weaken the one thing that might counter their efforts. FOX NEWS, talk radio are their propaganda arms. Racism, xenophobia, attacks on the poor, minorities, the culture war, etc. etc. are part of that larger divide and conquer strategy. The Federal Government has been made into public enemy number one; the business community has been exalted into the source of all good; and the public interest is being privatized while the social safety net is under attack.
Where the Republicans have taken power, they are ramming through an extremist agenda. Where they haven't been able to take power, their every effort is bent to blocking any effective action by government. Their success at packing the judiciary with like-minded corporate-friendly judges is undermining the rule of law and tipping the scales of justice.
For Fort Sumter, the Harper's Ferry Raid, think about the Big Bailout of the Banks and Occupy Wall Street. Make no mistake. This is a very real conflict over what America should be.
Meanwhile, Guantanamo (h/t to Kevin Drum), government eavesdropping, drone attacks, sucking up to corporations - in some ways Obama has embraced the worst aspects of the George W. Bush presidency as business as usual, and rather than trying to oppose Republican policies, he has consistently tried to meet them halfway - or more. Clinton may have won a few battles by triangulation, but by co-opting Republican ideas, he legitimized them - the same temptation Obama has fallen prey to all too often. And every time this happens, the Republicans just move farther to the right. Where is the countervailing pushback from the left? Not from the top it seems.
Where the Republicans have power, they go to extremes for their owners. (Pierce again - look at Wisconsin.) Where they don't have total control, they move to keep anything from getting done. (What Digby said: "They like being the opposition --- they can fight freely and without constraint. And fighting is their lifeblood. ")
The American Civil War was about many things. One aspect that doesn't get as much attention as it might is how much of it was a class war - old, rich white men fighting to keep an economic system that ran to their exclusive benefit. Rich men avoiding the draft by hiring poor people to enlist for them. War profiteering. That open conflict ended up with about 750,000 combined casualties. This modern conflict doesn't have as high a direct body count - but there are plenty of skirmishes and victims. (Pierce again: here, here, and here.)
And it's not funny how much of it really comes down to money. Kevin Drum tends to look at the economics of a lot of issues on a regular basis, and it's not pretty. Try the health of you and your child. Downward pressure on wages even as the economy picks up. Wealth transfer as the rich get even richer. Our failure to invest in our own country even though it would make sense - and why.
Short answer to the question Blow and Edsall both took a swing at and whiffed? If you want to know why America is increasingly divided, follow the money.
12:07 PM PT: UPDATE: As it happens the Times did publish my comment, where it not only got a number of recommendations, but was also flagged by the Times. It also drew some replies.