This can’t possibly be another article about the Red-Blue divide ... can it? My apologies, it is. The sharp contrast between Reds and Blues is both evident and troublesome. My one consolation is that the two color blocks are far from monolithic; rather, urban centers are blue while sparsely populated areas are red.
If you have miraculously managed to filter out all election-related information, Reds are more likely to live in a rural area in the South or Midwest, to go to church, to own a gun, and to vote Republican. Blues, on the other hand, probably live in a city on one of the Coasts or by the Great Lakes, to be secular, to do yoga, to attend AU, and to vote for Democrats. While the animosity is starting to subside between the groups, there is still a lot of resentment on both sides, and it is likely to stay that way for a while. We Blues feel very strongly that the Reds screwed us over and that the country as a whole has lost its marbles. We believe that there is a special place in hell for Ohio. On the other hand, Reds see us as liberal, New York Times-reading elitists who erroneously think we know what’s best for them. Their special place in hell is reserved for the French. Of course in my case, I really am a New York Times reader thinking I know what’s best - if I didn’t, I wouldn’t write this column. And to top it off, I’m half French. What can I say, I am a walking stereotype.
During the campaign, a lot of the accusations leveled by each side were very similar: alleging voter fraud, saying anything to get elected, being much less moderate than the candidate claimed to be, misrepresenting the candidate’s military record, misunderstanding the nature of international relations and the long-term legacy of 9/11, etc. Similarly, the Culture War’s factions have mirror images of one another: our values are good while yours are hypocritical; we stand for the people while you are elitist (East Coast elite or big business); we stand for freedom while you want to impose your ways on us (secularism or conservative Christianity); you murder the innocent (the unborn or victims of the Iraq War); your (proposed) foreign policies (would) make the world more a more dangerous place…
I would be lying if I claimed to be impartial in this assessment: I am thoroughly convinced that the United States is going to hell in a handbasket thanks to big business, Bush’s chickenhawks and the fundies. But the parallel between the two arguments is certainly intriguing. Group psychology and international communications research have found that in conflict, enemies develop a mirror image of one another. This certainly happened during the Cold War, and it seems to me that today it is happening domestically as well. The mirror image is a principle obstacle to conflict resolution, and it is among the most difficult psychological constructs to break, especially as it is reinforced by groupthink - the tendency to silence dissenting voices.
Intentionally or not, the lines have been drawn, and this “battle” (for lack of a better term) will be a long one. I’m not suggesting that there will be a second Civil War, featuring a secession attempt by the West Coast/East Coast/Great Lakes triad, as much as that idea amused me a month ago. It is fortunate that while Red America is essentially a block, we Blueies are separated by thousands of miles and that most of the country is in fact closer to purple. Rather, I foresee a long quasi-ideological struggle between two contrasting views of what it means to be American in the 21st century. And it will be painful, but hopefully not all the time.
Clearly, the best way to heal our divided nation would be to give a voice back to the Purple moderates. This would require “extremists” on both sides to shut up, at least for a while. As a Blue activist at the AU level, I am extremely reluctant to pull out of the political game unless I can be assured that someone equally virulent on the right will also pull out. I’m sure Red spokespeople feel the same need to maintain a balance between us, or to at least keep the scale from tipping in the “wrong” direction. And since there is little love or trust lost between us at the moment, cooperation seems nearly impossible.
Game Theory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma explain that win-win situations can be achieved through cooperation, but when defaulting is the dominant strategy for both players, the most likely result is a lose-lose situation: prolonging the conflict eternally or even to complete annihilation. During the Cold War, mutually assured destruction prevented a nuclear holocaust; I hope there are enough Red-Blue ties like family, friendship and common goals to see us through the Color War. The liberal theory of IR posits that economic, social and cultural linkages throughout the world are the surest safeguards against conflict. Meanwhile, a realist arguing for either side would tell you that since “we” have a power advantage, “we” should neutralize the opponent as promptly as possible. There are strong arguments for both sides’ superiority, much like there were at the beginning of the Cold War. If this were to happen, regardless of the victor, the United States would become a crippled shell of itself.
Fortunately, this seems most unlikely. A short month after the election, we’ve all been distracted by turkeys, dreidels and Santa Claus, and it looks like the nation is starting to heal. This is certainly a good thing, but it doesn’t solve the national debate on our country’s future. Then again, can it ever be solved? I think not, but whatever consensus emerges on today’s controversies will determine what tomorrow’s big issues will be, and our direction as a nation.