he overwhelming dichotomy of American partisanship came to a head Tuesday, as two alarmingly disparate electorates eventually voted Donald J. Trump the president-elect of the United States. At a time when political discourse runs in one of either two veins — mainstream network liberalism or independent guerrilla conservatism — Americans are finding themselves with an ever-decreasing capacity for dialogue. And it makes sense; how can someone who gets their news from CNN possibly have an informed, level discussion with a Breitbart reader? Not only are they likely to have differing opinions about nearly every major issue, but it’s reasonable to assume that they don’t even agree on what the major issues are. When information is doled out on two very different planes, constructive discussions naturally become scarce, as reconciling differences in opinion becomes secondary to figuring out just what the fuck the other person is even talking about. Conservatism and liberalism are no longer two sides of the same coin; they are different coins entirely.
But this isn’t necessarily new. In 2008, millions of people were convinced that our president was Kenyan, and the rest of the country was convinced that birthers were idiots. Very little has changed over the past eight years, as we now have half (well, 47 percent and some change) of the nation rejoicing at our president-elect and the rest scratching their heads, trying to figure out where the hell this came from. The American political discourse has been clouded with ineffective dialogue over the past decade, a symptom of the increasingly divergent nature of our information sources and the disappointing tendency of our politicians to lead by poor example. When we watch Donald and Hillary yell at each other for 90 minutes and call it a debate, we clearly dilute our own ability to be civil and sophisticated in discussions. And, as it turns out, civility is the only thing that was holding up the Democratic Party.
The floodgates finally opened about a year ago when Trump called immigrants rapists and criminals. Since then, hate speech, ad hominem attacks and a complete disregard for decency have become normalized in American politics. All of a sudden, we simply stopped reacting to the daily buffoonery that characterized the Trump campaign because no matter what he said or did, it was out of news cycles within two days and replaced with something vaguely more offensive. There was no accountability, so an adult with the temperament of a 7-year-old was given a microphone, a stage and someone to berate every day for 15 months. Turns out, it worked. The left’s “when they go low, we go high” approach let every Hillary supporter feel good about themselves, but in the end it became clear that America has been trained into rewarding petty insults over tried and true experience. Reward it we did, giving the presidency and control of Congress to the most destructive Republican coalition to exist in decades. One of the most shocking political victories in American history will end up being one of the most enduring, with longstanding Democratic strongholds crumbling to concede double digit margins in favor of the least Democratic presidential candidate we’ve ever had. Almost 60 percent of the electorate now consists of “landslide counties,” places that yield a 20-point or greater margin to their candidate of choice every four years. Divisive politics and regional ideological alignment have created a culture of contention, an “us versus them” mentality that fuels the vitriol and fear that the Republican party peddles to its blue collar whites.
Fortunately for those of us who have souls, though, voting patterns among millennials look overwhelmingly promising, when said millennials actually get off their asses and vote. But the United States made an astonishing mistake Tuesday, one that will deaden many Americans’ national pride for years to come. Plunging the country into a deep recession and rewinding the meter on social progress by a century are just a warmup now that President Trump is a reality, but we need to stay sentient of the fact that falling back into a cycle of divisiveness and hate has been definitively proven to aid the conservative ascendency. If America really is committing itself to a binary ideological spectrum, and it does seem to be doing so, then the least Democrats can do is be the good guys. Mainstream conservatism won this time around, but not before twisting itself into a perverse combination of populism and white nationalism with more than a little bit of misogyny sprinkled on top. The liberal approach, meanwhile, stayed more or less static — reach out to women and minority voters, preach openness and love, etc. So we may have lost, and lost big, but we didn’t disappear entirely. One can only hope that after Trump serves his time, a hungover America will pop an Advil, throw on some shades and stumble its way into some modicum of political equilibrium out of a common necessity to heal.