It is time to confront the unhappy fact about our country: There are now two Americas. Not a rich one and a poor one; economic status plays little role in this division.
There is a red one and a blue one.
For most of my life I have believed, in what I now regard as wishful thinking, that the right and left wings have essentially the same vision for America, that it’s only about ways to get there in which the two sides differ. Right and left share the same ends, I thought.
That is not the case. For the most part, right and left differ in their visions of America and that is why they differ on policies.
Right and the left do not want the same America.
The left wants America to look as much like Western European countries as possible. The left wants Europe’s quasi-pacifism, cradle-to-grave socialism, egalitarianism and secularism in America. The right wants none of those values to dominate America.
The left wants America not only to have a secular government, but to have a secular society. The left feels that if people want to be religious, they should do so at home and in their houses of prayer, but never try to inject their religious values into society. The right wants America to continue to be what it has always been — a Judeo-Christian society with a largely secular government (that is not indifferent to religion). These opposing visions explain, for example, their opposite views concerning nondenominational prayer in school.
The left prefers to identify as citizens of the world. The left fears nationalism in general (this has been true for the European left since World War I), and since the 1960s, the American left has come to fear American nationalism in particular. On the other side, the right identifies first as citizens of America.
The left therefore regards the notion of American exceptionalism as chauvinism; the United Nations and world opinion are regarded as better arbiters of what is good than is America. The right has a low opinion of the U.N.’s moral compass and of world opinion, both of which it sees as having a much poorer record of stopping genocide and other evils than America has.
The left is ambivalent about and often hostile to overt displays of American patriotism. That is why, for example, one is far more likely to find American flags displayed in Orange County, Calif., on national holidays than in liberal neighborhoods in West Los Angeles, Manhattan or San Francisco.
The left subscribes to the French Revolution, whose guiding principles were “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” The right subscribes to the American formula, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The French/European notion of equality is not mentioned. The right rejects the French Revolution and does not hold Western Europe as a model. The left does. That alone makes right and left irreconcilable.
The left envisions an egalitarian society. The right does not. The left values equality above other values because it yearns for an America in which all people have similar amounts of material possessions. This is what propels the left to advocate laws that would force employers to pay women the same wages they pay men not only for the same job but for “comparable” jobs (as if that is objectively ascertainable). The right values equality in opportunity and strongly believes that all people are created equal, but the right values liberty, a man-woman based family and other values above equality.
The left wants a world — and therefore an America — devoid of nuclear weapons. The right wants America to have the best nuclear weapons. The right trusts American might more than universal disarmament.
The left wants to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples for the first time in history. The right wants gays to have equal rights, but to keep marriage defined as man-woman. This, too, constitutes an irreconcilable divide.
For these and other reasons, calls for a unity among Americans that transcends left and right are either naive or disingenuous. America will be united only when one of them prevails over the other. The left knows this. Most on the right do not.