How did we get here? Part 1: Where It Began
As the 2020 election approaches, tensions are rising. Each side is convinced that their party’s victory is the key to saving the nation. Unfortunately, both sides are wrong. Neither has an answer that will save us, because neither understands the needs of their opponent. Whoever wins, we face an increasingly divided nation that is, quite literally, unable to hear one another.
How do we move forward? We can’t, until we understand how we got here. This is the first in a series of posts to address exactly that.
So let’s start with some background. First, there has always been diversity in the vision for this nation. Ever since the Puritans settled in New England, bringing a vision of utopia based on social organization along religious lines, contrasting with the business-oriented approach of the early Virginia settlements, there has been no single vision for the future of this nation. (One might add that the Native Americans’ vision had little in common with that of either group of settlers.) Anyone who looks backward and sees a unified vision is mistaken. It’s a myth.
This divergence has become apparent several times over the course of our history. From the War for Independence, in which as many colonists opposed independence as supported it, to the Civil War, conflicting visions have occasionally flared to violence. And yes, the visions have evolved over the years. Few now seek a religious utopia in which only church members can vote, and fewer still favor a return to an economy based on enslaved labor.
But let’s move forward to the modern era when our own reality began to change. The most significant shift is that of rural to urban. According to the Census Bureau, in 1900, only 40% of Americans lived in urban areas. By 2010, that had increased to 80%. Yet the amount of urbanized land remains a tiny fraction: 82% of Americans live in just 2% of the nation’s land area.
Yet there’s a potential misunderstanding here: rural population is not shrinking. In fact, it’s growing— from 53 million in 1953 to 59 million in 2003. It’s just not growing as fast as urban population.
What does this demographic shift have to do with where we’re at today? Everything. We may argue about health care, abortion, guns, and immigrants, but those aren’t really the issues. The most important thing I learned about conflict analysis during my time in Sri Lanka was this:
It’s never about what they say it’s about.
So what is it about? Jobs, money, culture, and above all, political power.
In a series of posts this week, I’ll explore the real issues that divide our nation. Because unless we understand what it’s really about, we can’t even begin to solve the mess we’re in.