There are two Americas.
It’s possible to live in one and not even know the other, thanks to the plethora of niche media. Both are incompatible and, in the wake of President Obama’s re-election, the bitter struggle for the identity of the American character is official.
Since the middle of the last century, when it came to America, from both domestic and international perspectives, there always was a consensus on the quintessential American character. Something I call the cowboy spirit. It was highly individualistic, fiercely anti-authority, suspicious of government, philanthropic, religious, disposed to civic volunteerism, self-reliant, spirited, unafraid, and inherently good. It was the type of person who believed in the words of John Wayne: “If everything isn’t black and white, I say ‘Why the hell not?’”
This was based on their founding principles, their history, their Christianity and what felt right.
Whether begrudgingly or otherwise, even liberals accepted this was a description of the idealized American; that this was what they had to work around. It was, of course, a most famous Democratic President that famously implored Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Along came the Cold War which further reinforced these virtuous character traits, and entrenched a penetrating hatred and fear of communism. Through all of this, a popular, universal and traditional culture emerged. It was cohesive, ideologically, and most importantly, when it came to values. It was within this culture that Ronald Reagan swept forty-nine states in 1984.
Internationally, the stereotype of the American was cast. Of course, they caricatured it and exaggerated it. But their assessment was largely right. The American was exceptional in his/her rugged and determined individualism, God-fearing nature, dislike of government, and the supreme confidence he or she exuded even when on foreign soil. The American was much more prepared to stand up for values, and was by far the most patriotic of men. It was the America where the Texan was seen as the most American of the Americans.
Whatever political differences conservatives may have had with President Clinton, and there were many, it must be said that his Presidency felt that it was still serving the traditional American character. That he was not contesting the core identity of America.
Yet a man who has, and is, has now been twice comfortably elected by the American electorate. In doing so, it is clear that the culture and character consensus so stereotyped and imprinted in the world’s mind for at least sixty years, no longer exists.
So what happened? Well, here’s the thing. It has vanished; but only from half the country.
There are, I would posit, at least 150 million Americans who identify with the traditional American character. They are as passionate as ever about their individual rights, as fearful of socialism as they have ever been, and as traditional as you can get. They work hard, eat at Chick-Fil-A, watch Fox, listen to Rush, dislike government presence in their day-to-day life, go to church, watch college football, believe in the natural family, love entrepreneurs, get emotional when they think about their country and give to veterans’ or other philanthropic causes. They believe goodness must prevail over evil, and if that means unleashing industrial size strength American whoop-ass, so be it. They embody the cultural consensus that once existed; they embody the idealized American character.
Then there is the other half of America which sees America, the world and the role of government very differently. Its lifestyle, values and absence of religious fervor are redolent with what we have come to understand as the traditional European character. It is through this prism that we can understand that their political choices are similar to Europe’s.
But this is not simply a matter of red states and blue states; those political divisions have existed for some time. This transcends state boundaries; millions supporting traditional America live in blue states, and millions supporting a different America are found in red states.
What it is, is a fight for identity. This is the ultimate culture war. There are two warring visions of and for America. One might be quick to suggest that there is no struggle or war; this is simply an irreversible evolution of America.
That can’t be right. The traditional America that I know and love is as passionate as ever about preserving or returning what they have always known as the identity of America. They will never change. They will never embrace the European approach to government, skepticism toward business, surrender their firearms, cease to see freedom as their number one value or adopt collectivism over individuality. And more so than those in the “new” America, they are raising families of large numbers, so their numbers will hold. They’re not going anywhere, and their traditional American character won’t let them just let it go.
So, where to from here? How much longer can this go on for? Division is not new to America but with these two virtual “countries” with their own media, culture and life so unpalatable to each other, one wonders what is next.
Another civil war? Secession? Traditional America campaigning anew to change the values, and win the hearts and minds of the new America? Silent struggle only becoming evident every election cycle? Simply wait for the world to present a reason for America to unite? Retiring to the home now after gallant efforts for years and simply praying for God’s will? Believe that this is just a phase and in four years’ time the whole nation will unite behind a new President?
Only time will tell, and bold I might be, I won’t predict the next step. Frankly, I don’t want to.
I am just devastated that my beloved America has been torn in two by those with the audacity to hijack the American character.