Are ominous signs revealing deep divisions in American society serving as harbingers or warning alarms that the nation’s continuing unity is truly imperiled?
There are certainly multiple reasons for deep concern. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has published a survey revealing that 41% of President Biden’s voters believe that the nation is so hopelessly divided that they think the nation needs to be divided into “blue” nation and “red” nation. Sadly, 51% of President Trump’s voters agree with them.
When you drill down on the survey the results are even more ominous. If you add 41% of Biden’s voters (=38 million) with 52% of Trump’s voters (=38 million), we are confronted with the fact that 71 million Americans who actually voted in the 2020 presidential election are ready to give up on the American experiment. Their disdain and hostility toward their fellow countrymen, and their lack of tolerance of their differing convictions, have now reached the point of advocating national divorce.
This appalling state of affairs might shock us, but it should not come as a surprise. We have seen the signs of this extreme division surfacing with increasing regularity. On the eve of the 2016 election, polls showed that if Trump won, approximately 60% of the citizens of our most populous state, California, were willing to secede from the Union. Just as ominously, approximately 60% of the residents of the nation’s second-most populous state, Texas, said they were willing to secede if Mrs. Clinton won.
Many would argue, myself among them, that Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidential tenure were more a manifestation of America’s deep divisions rather than being causative.
In Washington, D.C., the Congress also increasingly mirrors these deep fissures in the nation’s body politics. As The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib has observed, “Increasingly, Americans have sorted themselves into red enclaves and blue enclaves where they live with people who share their cultural and ideological mindset.”
This increasing division and divergence in our nation’s Capital are exacerbated by bipartisan manipulation of congressional district maps for maximum partisan advantage. The results feed division and lack of compromise.
By the Cook Political Report’s measurements, in 1997, there were 154 “swing” districts (districts where no presidential candidate had more than a 5% advantage). By the same measurements, today there are only 78 such swing districts. Consequently, the conservative Republican congressmen are more conservative and the liberal Democratic congressmen are more liberal. Currently, there is no overlap in the voting records of the current House of Representatives. In other words, the most conservative Democrat has a more liberal voting record than the most liberal Republican.
If representatives of either party step out of line or reach across the aisle, they will often be threatened with a primary challenge because they are not “loyal” to the most partisan version of their respective party’s policy positions.
Concluding his discussion of this phenomenon, Seib reports, “This stratified environment is why compromise is so hard, both between and within parties.” The bipartisan political center has been “hollowed out.” As one former Congressman put it, “It makes the things that ought to be relatively easy hard…and the things that are hard become impossible.” Things are getting worse. In the redistricting process following the 2020 Census, recent reports show the states of New York and Texas, for instance, are actually working to gerrymander their states to an even greater advantage for Democrats (New York) and Republicans (Texas).
However, while there are many contributing factors to this serious national crisis, the main underlying factor which dwarfs all other causes is the baneful influence of social media.
The recent revelations of the Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen have revealed the malignant influence of social media in breeding and feeding divisions in our society.
There is ever-increasing evidence that the new and unprecedented phenomenon known as the Internet and its dangerous spawn of all the varieties of social media are altering, and in some cases dissolving what President Lincoln called “our bonds of affection,” those “mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land.” (Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.)
The ever-present Internet-fueled social media has allowed and encouraged Americans to self-congregate in self-identifying homogenous groups where they see, read, and hear only opinions and “facts” from perspectives agree with and desire to hear. What we are witnessing and experiencing is the Internet as a centrifugal force of unprecedented power that is rending us asunder. It is encouraging Americans to live in virtual communities of only like-minded individuals. This allows the unprecedented and rapid permeation of ideologies such as Critical Race Theory which leads to perpetual racial animosity and racial and ethnic divisions.
The Internet (i.e. social media) has demonstrably challenged John Donne’s declaration that
“No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main…
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind;
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.” (“Meditation17”)
The Internet has proven Donne wrong. Internet-driven social media is atomizing our society into one in which increasingly every man is his own island, and there is no whole.
Let us pray that this dangerous drift is reversed while there is still an America left to save.
If the divorce is to be avoided, we as Americans will have to insist that the Internet, high tech, and social media’s power be curbed, regulated, and monitored.
We will also have to consciously seek to create those virtual public squares and spaces where we can listen to our fellow citizens and talk to, not at, each other and learn from our fellow countrymen’s differing perspectives. Further, we must educate ourselves and our fellow Americans, young and old, on the genius of the system our founding fathers bequeathed to us and we must all shoulder our responsibilities as participants and citizens in this great republic we call America.
May God give us the grace, courage, and wisdom to prevail in this struggle and to bequeath to our children and our children’s children the great inheritance passed on to us by our ancestors—the great privilege and responsibility of being an “American.”
Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.
Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.