There’s a political cliche, frequently repeated, that’s creating the wrong picture of our country.
Following this year’s elections, we’ve heard that our nation is “deeply divided.” This is said especially in relation to close elections, like those in Florida, where candidates were separated by only a few thousand votes.
But I think it’s more accurate to say that the nation is “evenly divided.” Close elections don’t necessarily suggest deep divisions; they tell us only that half the people are on one side and half are on the other.
Of course there are deep divisions between the extremes — ardent Trump supporters on the right and ardent radicals on the left. And looking at cable news, which thrives on conflict, we see starkly different world views — Rachel Maddow on the one hand, Sean Hannity on the other. As for the Internet, it’s a warren of endless weirdness for anyone who cares to pursue it.
But the recent elections suggest to me that the mass of people in the middle are thinking about what’s going on, and are willing to carry out a course correction when they think the ship of state is veering too far off course.
Apart from the conduct of the president, which for many is an issue in itself, there are a host of issues about which there’s probably more agreement than polls or pundits suggest — issues such as climate change, deficit spending, health care, corruption and immigration. It’s easy to stoke discord on these issues, but I think people are looking for a way to get beyond divisions that aren’t as deep as we’ve been led to believe.
Our politicians haven’t yet figured out how to exercise true statesmanship in the era of Internet manipulation and demagoguery, but some are trying. And those who succeed will probably be the ones who can tell a story — about the American people rising above the haters and schemers, the corporate monopolies and other self-serving interests.
We may be evenly divided, but that means just a few people changing their minds can turn things in a new direction, and this year, that may be what we’ve started to do.