ROMANTIC ILLUSIONS DIE HARD in America. So many fell on Election Night 2020 that it will be months, maybe years, before we compile a full inventory. We can start by acknowledging a paramount reality that contradicts the idealistic Obama-Biden catechism: There is a blue America and there is a red America, but there is no United States of America.
Joe Biden’s victory cannot mask the fact that this country is divided, regardless of the Democratic margin in the presidential popular vote. The fundamental schisms pitting American tribes against each other would remain intact even in the fantastical event that the Electoral College were by some political miracle abolished in the interest of democratizing what we are overly fond of calling the world’s greatest democracy.
Much of our immutable disunity is about race, of course. A lot of it is about the long-running class and cultural wars in which the coastal elites square off against the aggrieved who resent and despise them. Next to these intractable conflicts, the traditional ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats over governance and foreign policy seem secondary. Indeed, our disunity has proved immutable even as party identifications (and ideologies) have shifted on both sides of the chasm over the decades.
For all the durability of this discord, liberals have long had a habit of telling ourselves that peace is at hand. After the election of 1964, in what the historian Rick Perlstein has called “one of the most dramatic failures of collective discernment in the history of American journalism,” the reigning pundits at the Times and The New Yorker, not to mention the esteemed historians Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and James MacGregor Burns, declared the conservative movement and the GOP dead. Hadn’t the Lyndon Johnson juggernaut humiliated Barry Goldwater and the states of the old Confederacy that were his only visible electoral base? The legislative triumphs of the civil-rights movement that LBJ brought to fruition were celebrated as further proof that America had overcome the original sin that had prompted the Civil War. But as surely as the truce of Appomattox would give way to Reconstruction and Jim Crow, so the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was followed by a hail of assassins’ bullets and ensuing waves of racial unrest that would help propel the rise of George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.
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November 09, 2020