The Fractured States of America

Last year around this time, I posted the article “Divided We Stand” and a corresponding podcast titled “11/9/16”. (I definitely recommend you review these if you are not familiar with them as they will have an impact upon how you observe the news circulating constantly around us today.)

 

Each of these prior publications dealt with the pending elections at the time and the reality that no matter what occurred on November 8, 2016 America was in a state of division and disrepair to which neither political party offered a genuine solution. I suggested the divisiveness of American society and culture would continue on November 9, the day after the Presidential election, and into the foreseeable future no matter who won. This state of affairs should have been the greater concern rather than who won in November.

 

That prediction has proven all too true in the one year span of time that has followed the election of Donald Trump to the White House. We should not pretend what we are witnessing is the result of Donald Trump’s election victory alone! This is the result of years, perhaps even decades of pent up frustration, distrust, and despair on the part of the American people. Nothing holds us together any longer. Everything is leveraged to tear us apart. Our society is in a constant posture of division and the fractured state of the new national identity has come to define all that we are and do.

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We are divided by race, divided by politics, divided by the NFL, divided by our leaders, divided by celebrities, divided by hurricanes…This is the new fractured state of America.

I was surprised to see a recent tweet from another podcaster I followed in years past.

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His tweet and greater sense of confusion and despair represents a sentiment shared across the spectrum of the American landscape. You are either angry and fighting or you are retreating in despair. The world is losing hope and growing increasingly insecure in the environment of our national fractured state.

 

In one sense this is obvious as it is captured in the constant barrage of headlines pouring out of Washington DC.

 

Recent weeks offered the perfect image of this as the President’s correspondence with the families of fallen American soldiers turned into controversy. His chief of staff, General Kelly, came to his defense by the end of that week mourning how it seemed nothing was sacred today. His words gave us cause to pause and consider the inflated and partisan nature of the media’s swift crackdown on the story. Before we could even resolve all of these discrepancies and divisions however, former Presidents Bush and Obama each unleashed their own rebuke to the state of affairs in America, without mentioning President Trump’s name specifically and also without taking any personal responsibility for how America arrived at this juncture over the course of their own administrations. It has become difficult to even keep track of the different facets of American division these days.

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Consider some of these stories that might have been missed in the last few months but speak to the growing realities of America’s fractured state at both a systemic and cultural level.

 

Following the surprise election of Donald Trump in November 2016 many were calling for election reform and believed American voters were sitting ducks for fraud and illegitimacy at the polls. The problem of course was how is such reform shaped and enforced. When a voter fraud panel was assembled by the new administration 44 states refused to comply with its data and information requests. Even while these states refused instructions from the federal government the Trump White House alleged the story regarding their refusal was simply fake news.

When President Trump suggested the US would be pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, several states and their legislatures countered “No we are not!” The US might eventually withdraw but states like California and New York will adhere to the accords. This triggered the suggestion by author and journalist Bill McKibben that in light of the president’s irrational actions we are entering a new geopolitical period of “nation states” where the world and international allies work around President Trump to deal with more accommodating and reasonable state governors. To one side of America’s increasingly unsteady divide this appears reasonable, to the other side such actions border upon the tactics of secessionist movements.

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Meanwhile in June the state of California issued a state travel ban for employees of the state government, forbidding their travel. The ban was not for travel to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or North Korea. It was to Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota. The grounds for the travel ban, according to the California Attorney General was that these states discriminated against LGBT. Around the same time, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the charity monitoring service GuideStar labeled groups like the American Family Association and the Family Research Counsel as hate groups on their web site for similar purposes. In the current fractured state of America there is little room for disagreement. There is affirmation and hate and in between the two are the loud voices and organizations shouting who is correct and who is fake news.

Drastic transitions within a society do not usually feel sudden as they are happening. They only appear that way in retrospect. In the moment they are subtle even unnoticed until their accumulated weight takes its toll and we awake one day to realize that we as a people are living in a new state of existence. This is the reality we are living in the midst of in the United States today. It is the reality of the fracturing of all forms of union, cohesion, reason and tolerance for one another.

 

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Recent months produced numerous natural disasters. At any other period of American history such events have been grounds for a national moment of unity and resolve. The 2017 hurricanes in Puerto Rico turned into a shouting match between the mayor of San Juan and the President of the United States. In a Houston suburb recipients of relief found their receipt of aid and assistance was contingent upon their proper political stance toward Israel. Israeli politics might seem to be among the most irrelevant of factors when it comes to aid for Hurricane Harvey victims but in the fractured state of America this is not the case.

 

Our fractured state is already settling into systemic realities of national politics, guaranteeing this status is not resolved but progresses into the next election cycle and generational status quo. Republicans are finding they cannot move to more moderate positions as President Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon has promised to defeat any moderate out there. On the Democratic side of the aisle, establishment candidates are being castigated for not being liberal enough and facing challengers from the left within their own party. Recent news reports suggest a civil war within both the Republican and Democratic parties. Leaders and standard bearers on both the left and right are being forced to more extreme and uncompromising positions. This guarantees division, gridlock, and a continuation of the fractured state of existence we now live within.

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A June article from the conservative publication National Review observed:

The United States is dividing as rarely before. Half the country, mostly liberal America, is concentrated in 146 of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties — in an area that collectively represents less than 10 percent of the U.S. land mass. The other half, the conservative Red states of the interior of America, is geographically, culturally, economically, politically, and socially at odds with Blue-state America, which resides mostly on the two coasts. The two Americas watch different news. They read very different books, listen to different music, and watch different television shows. Increasingly, they now live lives according to two widely different traditions.

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This is our America. This is why we are growing more stressed out and frustrated every day. It is why we are avoiding each other more and isolating to our corners of the fractured pieces of American identity and ideology. It is why the echo chambers of political perspective are gaining ground and influence but independent thought and the peacemakers are losing ground.

 

This is also why it is only going to get worse, not better.

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