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America’s political divide, image courtesy of Ali Zifan and Wikimedia Commons

Dualistic thinking is a natural human condition. Ancient Greek philosophers assumed that opposites like hot and cold were not relative differences in energy, but were instead something like powers facing each other across a border that pulled objects back and forth between them. Many other pairs were treated the same way, including male/female and citizen/slave to the detriment of human development. Ancient Persia taught the region of the Middle East to think in terms of good and evil, each with its own god — Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, respectively — and the Jews carried this belief forward to hand it off to Christianity. And in biological terms, we are a bilaterally symmetrical species with two halves that not only permit the sound of hands clapping, but that also lead to the bizarre phenomenon of patients who, as a result of neurosurgery are in some ways two persons in one body.

Saying that this is natural does not in any way show that it is either true or false, however. At times, this dualism turns into the fallacy of a false dichotomy, the belief that two mutually exclusive positions cover the totality of a situation. All too often, this is the result of lazy thinking, a failure to investigate all the possibilities. But it is equally wrong to deny oppositions when they do exist, even when those have been set up by the poor choices of the parties involved.

The Cold War did not have to happen, but it was a reality while Moscow and Washington were able to gain supporters. English chemist and novelist, C.P. Snow, discussed in his famous 1959 Rede Lecture the two cultures in academia, the sciences and the humanities, observing that many professors of literature have no idea, for example, what the Second Law of Thermodynamics might be or how the concept might be important. If I may be allowed to stick up for my team here, I add that many professors of physics — and even more students taking business or engineering majors — wonder what use they could have for knowledge of Romantic poetry or the tragedies of Aeschylus.

In America’s political environment, sniping between academic departments may feel quaint. We have questions of healthcare, the environment, and foreign policy, among many other pressing concerns, to deal with. And the split between the right and left wings feel all too innate to their partisans. Though some analysis of our personal histories reveals more choice than may feel true, the day-to-day perception is that whatever party we identify with is for many the natural one, the only one that we could conceive of belonging to. But there is a much more important division, one that is only about ideology by derivation. The two Americas are made up of a privileged class who enjoy the benefits of our wealthy society and the rest who make that society possible.

The establishment members of the Democratic Party would like to believe that the divide is along political lines and that if they could only show the facts to people on what they perceive as the right wing, everyone would be a Democrat. To some extent, this is a consequence of the differential in education rates among Republicans and Democrats, with the latter tending to have had more years in college or university and to have achieved more degrees. The thinking is that if only the left can educate the right, there will be no more conservatives.

But the 2016 election made a hash of this notion. College-educated white men favored Trump over Clinton, and their female counterparts were not far behind. The best predictor for how a person would vote in that election was race. This is dismissed by Democrats as the result of racism, and it is undeniable that bigoted attitudes are a factor, but there is so much more that this reductionist interpretation leaves out.

What Democrats are failing to grasp as their voting base shrinks to the big cities of the coasts and the Great Lakes and their suburbs is that millions have been left behind by the economy that the rich have enjoyed. Hourly wages — the pay that the labor level of a company receives — have been stagnant since 1980, while productivity has more than doubled. Tens of millions lack health insurance, and many who have some form of insurance are underinsured thanks to gaps in coverage or to copays and deductibles. As a result, some 68,000 were dying per annum prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. And the concentration of wealth is moving increasingly upward with the top One Percent holding more and more of the total value of the economy — and older Americans are gaining, while those under the age of thirty-five have found their wealth stagnate.

Donald Trump is objectively not a solution to this situation, but to many voters who have seen Democrats and Republicans take largely the same approaches to managing the economy — tweaking taxes up or down here, spending a little more on this program than on that over there — the possibility that someone could disrupt the system — or smash it, given how it has left so many behind — is appealing. The division of the country is now into the well-to-do and those who give the privileged class their easy lives. The great mass of voters who are sick of carrying around the toffs have no reason to believe that today’s Democratic Party has anything to offer them. They will find out that Joe Biden told a group of rich donors that if he were to be elected, “nothing would fundamentally change.”

For whatever reason, the Democratic establishment was able to scare primary voters into supporting their Diet Republican favorite, but when the time comes to vote in the general election, how will Biden pull in voters who did not cast a ballot in 2016? The only Democrat to win the presidency since the year before this century began was someone who ran as a transformational candidate. That he then governed as a moderate Republican is a fact that has only pushed unaligned voters further away.

The people in power are never going to change. They love their privileges and keep rigging the system — economic and criminal justice — to preserve what they have. The only answer will be for the majority to rise up. We have to reject Democrats and Republicans — to repeal and replace both the major parties that have chosen to become gradations of the same ideology of the class they represent. If we cannot do this soon, we face the potential of a demagogue who, unlike Trump, combines populism with competence.

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