Yesterday, someone in my politics class wrote that "the United States is divided into two separate societies, one consisting of the rich and powerful, the other of the poor and powerless". It is true that this division has been growing wider for a quarter of a century. But the division in the US runs deeper than that. The "two parts" of American society have profoundly different views on politics, religion, morality, and the role of government. They differ in their views of life, family, and sex. In this article, I will look at some of these divisions in more depth, and show that the situation is more complicated than it first appears.
The traditional view of the social fabric of the US, as set forth in the Constitution, was that of a "melting pot" in which people of all backgrounds, races, and ethnic heritages would come together to form a new society, one that would be greater than the sum of all its parts. The new society would be bound together by a common set of values, a common language, and a common purpose.
The reality, however, is that the US has always been divided along social lines. In the 1840’s, the abolitionists and the pro-slavery forces engaged in a bitter, bloody conflict over the issue of slavery. The Civil War left the US an even more divided nation. After the war, the US attempted to heal its wounds by enacting the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, but the struggle between capital and labor soon erupted into the "Bloody Eighties", a decade of strikes and violence, culminating in the Haymarket Square Riot of 1886.
After the "Bloody Eighties", the US entered the Progressive Era, an era in which many social reforms were enacted. One of these reforms was the creation of the "Square Deal" under President Theodore Roosevelt. The Square Deal included many social reforms, including workers compensation, laws regulating public health and safety, and banning child labor. The Square Deal was itself followed by the New Deal, which was a series of social reforms enacted by President Franklin Roosevelt to combat the Great Depression. The New Deal included the creation of the Social Security system, as well as the creation of government jobs programs like the Works Progress Administration.
Over the past 75 years, however, social divisions have worsened in the US. In addition to the social divisions between the rich and the poor, the US is divided along racial and ethnic lines, along religious lines, and along political lines. The confluence of these divisions has created a situation in which some citizens of the US are highly marginalized. The divisions between the races, between the rich and the poor, and between the Democrats and the Republicans have created a situation in which the US contains not one society, but multiple societies.
Divisions and Demographics
First, let us consider the racial and ethnic divisions in the US. The US has a population of over 300 million people. There’s plenty of room for people of all heritages, including (but never limited to!) Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native American, and so many more. The US is, by and large, a "melting pot" of different ethnic groups. However, despite over a century of immigration, the US still has a large population of descendants of the original settlers, the English, the Irish, and the Germans.
The white and black population of the US were, for a long time, brutally segregated. The white population had largely been clustered in the Northeast and the Midwest, while the black population had been concentrated in the South. The civil rights movement led to greater desegregation, but also to greater social tension. The riots of the 1960’s, the black power movement of the 1970’s, the OJ Simpson trial, and the Rodney King beating have all contributed to the racial tension in the US.
Second, let us consider the divisions between the rich and the poor. In the US, the rich are getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer. Today, the top 1% of Americans have an income equal to the bottom 42% of Americans. The top 1% of Americans have more income than the bottom 80% of Americans. The gap between rich and poor has been widening for the past 25 years. In the US today, the rich truly are the "haves", and the poor are, sadly, the "have-nots".
Third, let us consider the divisions between the Democrats and the Republicans. In the US, there is a political chasm between the two major parties. This divide is not only between the two parties, but also between the two major factions within each party. The Republican party is split between the conservatives and the moderates, while the Democratic party is split between the liberals and the socialists.
For the benefit of our non-American or new American readers, allow me to summarize our two-party system in a nutshell. The Democrats are, of course, more liberal than the Republicans, while the Republicans are, of course, more conservative than the Democrats. In simplistic terms, the Democrats tend to favor social programs that help the poor, while the Republicans tend to favor economic programs that help the rich. The Democrats support abortion rights, while the Republicans oppose abortion. The Democrats are more likely to support gay rights, while the Republicans are more likely oppose gay rights. The Democrats are generally more willing to use government funds to aid the poor, while the Republicans are more willing to use government funds to aid the economy, helping the rich. Democrats generally support gun control, while Republicans support the freedom of the people, and the constitutional right to bear arms. As a result, America is one of the few places in the world where products and services such as an ar15 subscription box can exist and flourish. This is a concise summary, so of course, these are generalizations, and these descriptions are not always true. But this is the impression that most people hold about the two sides of politics today, and the division is real and damaging.
The social divisions in the US have been growing worse for several decades. They are now at a point where they threaten the stability of the US. The status quo is not acceptable. We must find ways to address the social divisions in the US.
The first step is to admit there is a problem. We need to admit that there is a problem with the widening divide between the rich and the poor. We need to admit that there is a problem with the widening divide between the Democrats and the Republicans. We need to admit that there is a problem with the widening divide between the white population and the minorities. Most of all, we need to admit that there is a problem with the widening divide between the social classes.
The second step is to understand what has caused the divisions. We need to understand that the divisions are the result of a long history of social tension in the US. We need to understand that the divisions are also the result of the actions of the politicians and the media. We need to understand that the divisions are the result of the actions of people like us. All of us who are part of the "melting pot" have a part to play in the divisions. We are all responsible to a certain degree.
The third step is to work towards proactive solutions. This begins with government policy, and a recognition of the extent of the problem. From there, we can fund action.
In an ideal world, we would be able to eliminate the divisions and live in a world of peace and racial harmony. But we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world in which the divisions are here to stay. But we can make them substantially better, and that’s where the focus should be for the Biden presidency.