There are calls for the nation to unite behind Donald Trump, the president-elect.
Easier said than done. We remain a deeply divided country: polarized, angry, tribal.
The split is usually described as Democrat vs. Republican, or liberal vs. conservative. That seems right. We’ve had a two-party system in this country for more than a century, so it’s understandable we see our political disputes in partisan terms.
Yet we may be missing something if we see our divisions as simply a matter of party identification. In fact, there’s increasing evidence our disagreements are much more fundamental — and therefore much more difficult to overcome. For example:
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▪ Rural vs. urban. The split between the country and city is evident across a wide range of issues, but guns are at the top of the list. Rural residents see hunting as a birthright, and weaponry as constitutionally protected. Murder is rarely an issue in small-town America, but it plagues big cities, where leaders plead for reasonable regulations on gun possession.
But the rural-urban split extends beyond rifles and shotguns. America’s public school system is a constant tug-of-war between smaller, inefficient school districts and urban schools faced with educating children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
That divide will play out again next year in Kansas, where small communities will vigorously oppose school consolidation, while urban districts will demand additional money for their classrooms.
The rural-urban divide is the most important in America. Our constitutional system gives extra weight to rural votes, and cities resent it.
▪ Religious vs. non-religious. In July, a Pew poll found 78 percent of white “evangelical” voters backed Donald Trump, while 67 percent of atheist, agnostic, or non-denominational voters preferred Hillary Clinton. The single most accurate predictor of voting behavior is church attendance: church-goers are overwhelmingly more likely to vote Republican.
This divide is more cultural than ecclesiastic. Trump has been married three times, and bragged about groping women, for example, while Clinton’s faith appears to be an important part of her early public life.
But she championed same-sex marriage and abortion rights, absolute disqualifiers for evangelical voters.
▪ College educated vs. non-college educated. Non-college educated American workers have been decimated by foreign competition, changing environmental rules, and the rise in technology-related occupations. Union membership has plummeted.
This is where we find the fundamental party realignment prompted by the Trump candidacy. Blue collar workers have always been more comfortable culturally with Republicans; now, they’re economically aligned on trade and other issues as well.
At the same time, entrepreneurs and new-economy workers seem drawn to Democrats. In the 2016 cycle, Apple Inc. and its affiliates gave 83 percent of their campaign donations to Democrats.
▪ Minority vs. majority. More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, America remains a largely segregated country. But the nation’s demographics are changing: within the next 30 years, whites will likely be a minority in the U.S.
That change was the driver of much of the immigration debate this election cycle. The country’s racial divide remains as problematic as ever.
▪ Old vs. young. This split has enormous implications for Social Security and Medicare reform, Obamacare, education and training, and job creation.
This cycle, older voters tended to support GOP candidates, while younger voters were Democrats.
▪ Men vs. women. The gender gap is real, and grew this year. The divide will affect debates on job discrimination and worker benefits, education, child care, even military intervention and foreign affairs.
The result? We can predict with uncanny accuracy how a 60-year-old white man from Bates County, Mo., a church-goer with a high school degree, will vote. And the same for a 28-year old woman, a college-educated tech worker from Kansas City who skips church.
Some of these divisions overlap, of course, and they don’t always apply. But we’re polarized in part because of the way we live, not just the way we think.
It was once the job of politicians to overcome these divisions. It will take an enormous effort for Trump to do that now, largely because he used those divisions in his campaign.
Not much good will come from the disastrous election season we’ve just gone through. If it helps us recognize where our disagreements are, though, it will have been worth it.