Divisions in America: Evaluation and Implications Essay

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Divisions in America: Evaluation and Implications

Brooks (2001) described state voting patterns in the presidential election of 2000 (similar in 2004), where news-coverage maps of the United States showed in “red” the states captured by Republican George Bush, largely vast areas between the two coasts, and showed in “blue” the largely coastal states captured by Democrat Al Gore. He proposed the pattern indicated that within each state, the majority and minority votes reflected two divisions, “Red America” and “Blue America” (p. 1) and referred to the majorities and minorities within each state as either “red” or “blue” people, depending upon the candidate voters supported.

To characterize people in the categories, he compared people in his own “blue” Montgomery County in Maryland with those he met in “red” Franklin County in Pennsylvania. His purpose was to answer the question: “Are Americans any longer a common people? ” (p. 3). Based largely on observations of reactions to an event that occurred a few months before publication of the article, the event now referred to as “9/11”, he reached the conclusion that the two sides were (touchingly) united in “a common love for this nation – one nation in the end” (p. 9).

Brooks’ analysis is evaluated below on three issues: the appropriateness of considering either voting preferences or characteristics of voters as a categorical (indeed dichotomous) variable (problematic even if more than two counties had been used); an implicit assumption that there has been an increase in divisions in the United States, compared to the past; and an assessment of current divisions in historical context. Kinds of Variables Categorical variables are composed of distinct or discrete categories (Pagano, 2006), e. g. , something can be an animal, mineral, or vegetable, as in the old television program.

Most variables, however, are not categorical because conceptually they are measures of quantity (Pagano, 2006). For convenience, these variables often are broken down into categories, as in using age groups, for example, pre-adolescence, adolescence, and young adult. But it is understood that at exactly the time one reaches the age of thirteen, a magic pumpkin doesn’t make you any different than you were a few minutes ago. In an election, it must be possible to win or lose, but voting preference is not a categorical variable because voters differ in the degree to which they support the candidate they choose.

Prior to the 2000 election, if you had asked voters to use a 10-point scale to rate the extent to which they approved of the views of the two candidates, with high numbers indicating greater approval, Voter A might have rated Bush 8 and Gore 7, Voter B might have rated Bush 1 and Gore 4, and Voter C might have rated Bush 3 and Gore 2). Not only would these voters have disagreed on the extent of the difference between the two candidates (e. g. , Voters A and C didn’t perceive much of a difference), but a higher rating can’t even be interpreted as “approval” (Voters B and C gave their candidates ratings at the lower end of the scale).

The seemingly endless combinations of rating two candidates indicates the inappropriateness of using the state voting map to infer there’s a “Red America” and a “Blue America” – or using individual voting choice as an indication that there are “red” and “blue” people. Indeed, Voters A and C probably would make very strange bedfellows. Historical Perspective of Divisions Did those who chose to paint Republican states “red” recognize the wonderful irony of their choice?

Based on the type of American history books that have been used in schools (Zinn, 2003; Loewen, 2007), the choice was more likely to have been coincidental. Schools have not taught about America at its ugliest – and it’s hard to find an uglier time than when from 1950 to 1954, Republican Senator Joe McCarthy saw RED – big, bad “Commie” red – in government, at universities, among writers, artists, and other intellectuals – all over America (Rovere, 1996). Rovere reported that after McCarthy first held up a list filled with the names of communists in the State Department, the first of five Senate investigations took place.

People were called to testify, not only about their own activities, but were pressured to name names – testify before the committee about the activities of others on McCarthy’s lists. The careers of many of those who refused to name others were destroyed. Some universities caved in and required faculty to sign loyalty oaths, and those who refused lost their positions. Whoever chose “commie red” for Republican states probably would have been fired by dawn during the years of McCarthyism. Fear reigned, with some fearing the Red Menace and others fearing the destruction produced by this fear.

When McCarthy reported that communists also had infiltrated the military, he finally was censured by the senate. Though McCarthy himself lost his influence, the threat of communism remained a major theme in United States foreign policy – or a convenient excuse to support brutal dictatorships in Latin America and the Middle East (de Quesada, 1998). Overestimates of current divisions in America are understandable since we graduate from high school having been taught only about the virtues, accomplishments, victories, etc.

of America (Loewen, 2007; Zinn, 2003). Based on Loewen’s study of American-history textbooks, it would seem that the writers have followed the admonishment, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. ” Since Columbus’ arrival, American history has been one of conflicts, divisions, and scandals, a history that students might find more interesting, credible, and less forgettable than the distorted glorification of white America they now are taught (Loewen, pp.

xii-xiii). On the other hand, people themselves distort the history they personally had experienced. Regarding the Vietnam War (1964 – 1972), over the years people seem to have developed a collective amnesia, falsely remembering that only a small percentage of the population opposed the war and needed to atone for their shameful treatment of the brave Americans who risked their lives (though some in dangerous stints in the National Reserve).

Forgotten were incidents such as My Lai, where American soldiers ordered that everyone in the town – from babies to the elderly – needed to get into a ditch, where they then were shot by the soldiers (Zinn, 2003, p. 478). People seemed to have forgotten the growing size and intensity of those in the United States who were against the war (Zinn, 2003), from 39% in 1965 to 61% in 1971 (p. 492). Thus, people might assume that current divisions in the country are a break from a harmonious and united past. Divisions in Historical Context

First, proposing that any division is dichotomous must have been a result of using only two counties, noted above (Brooks, 2001). For example, most members of minority groups do not live in areas resembling high-income Montgomery County or small rural Franklin County, where blue and red people live respectively, but 90 & and 62% of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans voted for Gore, compared to 9% and 35% who voted for Bush, and, similarly, few members of labor unions live in either county, but 59% of union votes were for Gore and 37% for Bush (Time Magazine, 2000, p. 2).

While Jewish people do live in Montgomery County and even more work in areas related to journalism, the percentages do not match the percentage of Jewish people who voted for Gore, 79%, compared to 19% for Bush (CNN on TV, 2000). Indeed, despite the anti-Israel tone of criticism of Bush for being too supportive of Israel, the Jewish vote was not eroded by justifiable concerns over this single issue (Grier, 2006). In other words, if Montgomery and Franklin counties represent “blue” and “red” people, what color are the large percentages of Americans who do not fit into either county?

And what color are the majority of Americans who voted neither for Bush, Gore, or minority candidates, but instead, as in most elections, chose “none of the above? ” i. e. , they didn’t vote (Davison, 2001). Not only are there more kinds of people than the two observed by Brooks (2001), but Brooks and others (e. g. , Rauch, 2005) have observed that regardless of the characteristics of those voting for each candidate, differences on issues between most of those voting for different candidates are small.

Apparently, while those in the so-called Christian Right who are intensely worried about the “morality” of legal abortion, gay marriage, etc. are noisy, they comprise only a small percentage of the electorate. In fact, based on a study of surveys over a twenty-year time period (DiMaggio, Evans, & Bryson, 1996, as cited in Rauch, 2005), there has been a “dramatic depolarization in intergroup differences” (p. 3). One is left wondering why there aren’t more divisive differences between groups.

Have people become more accepting of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and other American traditions? Indeed, the coming together of Americans that Brooks (2001) witnessed after “9/11” was soon followed by increases in another “ism” – where Muslim-Americans were perceived as likely terrorists (Zinn, 2005, p. 680). Has someone gone around America putting Prozac in our drinking water?

References

Brooks, D. (2001). One nation, slightly divisible. Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved December 1, www.theatlantic.com

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