Red and Blue America- time to wave the white flag?
America has sorted into two opposing camps, both of which are mad because they see themselves losing ground. How can both sides be losing? And doesn't that make us all losers? How do we transcend this loser's standoff and finally start agreeing on anything?
There are two general arenas of disagreement in America today- the social arena and the economic/political arena. If you are on Team Red (conservatives), you have mostly been winning the economic arena for the last 50 years while losing badly in the social arena. If you are on Team Blue (liberals)- it's the opposite. Will either team ever prevail in both arenas? Not likely. We live in a universe of yin and yang, where every action produces a reaction and balance is always trying to be restored.
Let's start with the economic arena, covering jobs, the economy, and taxes. The past 50 years have been a conservative landslide. Tax rates, especially those on the wealthy and corporations, have tumbled to their lowest rates in a century. The government has shrunk in power and significance, and the social safety net is constantly under attack. Regulations have been lifted all over the economy, allowing businesses to get bigger and bigger without any consideration to the environment, labor practices, or future sustainability. This retrenchment away from the New Deal has led to unprecedented wealth but also third-world level income inequality and lack of social mobility.
Now look at the social arena, which covers things like race, gender, religion, and popular culture. Here liberals have prevailed, transforming a culture strictly stratified by race and gender to one of interracial marriages and unisex bathrooms. In just 50 years women and minorities have made huge strides in both elected offices and popular culture, and though they still have a long way to go, their issues are front and center. Homosexuality has emerged from the closet and become widely accepted in many areas of the country, and the organized religions that once condemned them are is on the decline. Marijuana is practically legal and widely accepted, and birth control and abortion are more accepted now than they were 50 years ago.
When you think about it, both teams have seen significant victories, but they seem somehow miserable. People tend to focus on what they've lost more than what they've gained, and I can see where both sides are coming from. The feeling of being outspent and out of power for the left matches the frustration of the right's loss of control of the social agenda. The only people who've come out on top are a handful of millionaires and billionaires, and I doubt many of them are truly happy about the way things have turned out.
It's puzzling that while the economic arena has the most influence over our lives, it's the social arena where most of today's battles are being fought. This is probably because social issues are emotionally charged, while economic theory is boring and confusing. Even the economists can't agree on anything. Abortion is a hot-button issue, while fiscal policy puts people to sleep. So while we've been arguing over guns, weed, and immigration, we've been ignoring things like infrastructure, artificial intelligence, and foreign policy. And nothing ever gets settled in the opinion-heavy social arena.
We've been fighting for 50 years about abortion and family planning. The right, whose main goal in that fight is - producing more babies- has sabotaged itself by creating an economy where more and more women decline to reproduce, often for financial reasons. For half a century we've fought a costly war on minor drugs like marijuana while ignoring the major legal one that's destroying millions of lives- opioids. The fight over gun rights has become impossible to understand as more and more people become victims of gun violence and guns become more plentiful and more powerful (even as gun ownership is declining in the country as a whole).
Politicians are cynically using social issues to incite tribal tendencies and get elected, knowing full well that there's very little that the government can do about any of them. All of the changes we've seen in social attitudes have come about organically, and not because some legislature passed a law or some pundits ranted about it on cable television. These debates are the junk food of American politics, and we need to clean up our mental diets and stop ranting about cancel culture and critical race theory.
So what can we do about any of this? We can't turn back the clock and go back to the good old days, and we can't rig elections to force people on our side. The only direction we can go is forward. But to get there we have to understand each other better and open up honest, productive dialogues. Team Red and Team Blue are stuck with each other, just like an eagle has both a left wing and a right wing, and needs both to fly. Last month a group called America Talks began a dialogue across the country teaming people of opposite ends of the political spectrum with that exact goal.
It's time to call a truce. We have real problems that need to be addressed- jobs, climate change, infrastructure, cybercrime, pandemics, and more. I refuse to get caught up anymore in junk politics. Treat each other with kindness and respect, and most of these social differences will work themselves out. The fact that we can even talk about the injustices of the past shows we've made great progress, and now it's time to get moving on the urgent things we can actually do something about.