In increasing numbers, Americans in both camps are taking note of the deep cultural and political chasm that has emerged between us, one so deep that it has begun to resemble the frightening constitutional impasse that prevailed in the years preceding the American Civil War.
We’re waking up to the reality that we now live in two Americas — two nations diametrically opposed to each other, harboring radically different views on what it means to be American.
I’m one of one them, though at this point in my life, I consider myself far more a purple than a blue or red American. And it’s always a good thing when the views of an ordinary American like me are confirmed by someone as eminent as Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and currently Professor of Public Policy at the University of California—Berkeley.
While I often disagree with Reich, I’ve always admired the articulate and forthright way with which he defends his views. And I can’t help but agree with one of his most recent Facebook posts expressing similar concerns about the deep rifts in American society.
“Perhaps we’ve got to face the fact that we’re really two nations — one that loves guns, hates abortion, abhors gay marriage, dislikes immigrants, and is so suspicious of the federal government that it won’t even take free Medicaid funding for its near poor,” Reich contends.
“The other America is exactly the opposite. Instead of trying to shoehorn these two nations together, maybe they should be separated. Say, a two-thirds vote by citizens of a state will determine which America it joins.”
Reich anticipates these two Americas would remain on friendly terms and maintain a joint foreign policy, though each would take responsibility for its own domestic policies.
But there would have to be passports, and Americans would have to pass through metal detectors when they travel from one America to the other.
“I’m being facetious, of course,” Reich writes. “But is it a totally crazy idea?”
No, barring the metal detectors and passports, it’s not crazy at all, as far as I’m concerned.
Granted, I take mild offense at Reich’s patronizing tone. I live in a red state, but I don’t stockpile firearms, I don’t hate immigrants, I’m not a fundamentalist, and I happen to support marriage equality.
But Reich has articulated a painful truth. We are a fundamentally divided nation — two nations, in fact. America increasingly resembles the middle-aged couple trapped in an acrimonious marriage who, instead of divorcing, inhabit opposite ends of the house entirely for the sake of getting their kids through college and paying off their mortgage.
Reich is calling for nothing less than wholesale devolution, the distribution of power to smaller political entities.
Fortunately for us, another seminal American thinker supplied such a blueprint— a workable one, as I see it.
Writing a generation ago, the late diplomat and historian George F. Kennan conceived a radical reordering of the federal system — downsizing it by entrusting the biggest share of domestic policymaking to political entities, which he described as constituent republics.
Kenan determined that states were no longer large enough to absorb most of these devolved domestic powers. He advocated merging states sharing strong cultural and historical affinities into larger constituent republics, though he also singled out a few major cities as possible candidates.
Kenan’s decentralist vision is radical, but such radical visions are not new to the American experience. The Constitutional Union Party perceived similar reforms 155 years ago on the brink of the American Civil War, though these were offered too late to stave off disaster.
This is the painful reality facing us: Either we undertake fundamental constitutional reforms to address this new reality or we remain mired in impasse that will only grow more emotionally charged.
Here’s hoping that we act before it’s too late.