Like all relationships and marriages, there have been times when my wife and I were so hurt or angry at one another we could hardly talk. We knew the only way to bridge the gap was to talk with each, but neither of us wanted to. I discovered that in those times, if we sat relatively close to one another and touched even a sliver of the other (a foot, pinky, the ulnar edge of the palm), that it could offer us just enough of a bridge to limp across the divide.
I have been thinking about that on this ‘day after’ the election.
In a shocking article in the NYT (“How Large Is the Divide Between Red and Blue America?” November 4, 2016), it was revealed that in 2012 half of all voters lived in a county that voted in a landslide (by 20% or more) for a Republican or Democrat presidential candidate. Many believe that when the smoke clears from yesterday’s election, our 2016 divide will be revealed as even wider.
Since 1992 the proportion of people living in landslide counties has increased from 38% to 50%, which says we are becoming more and more segregated by life-style, attitude, and class if not also by ethnicity and race. People are self-segregating as never before. The bluest counties represent only 7% of the landmass while the reddest counties own 47% of the territory. Yet that blue 7% holds 90 million votes to the red 70 million votes that are spread out across so many of the states. The article is worth reading and depicts a fascinating profile of our divide.
Still, we need to remember the reality on the ground is often different than statistics. Take Kansas, fiercely “Red” as any state and yet in 2012, Obama received about 430,000 votes out of roughly one million. While Romney received 250,000 more votes than Obama, nearly 40% of the people living in the very red Jayhawk state voted for Obama. It is important to remember every majority also lives side-by-side among a minority. Then again, reflecting the self-segregating nature of our divide, most of those Obama voters in Kansas lived in only two counties, both on the far eastern edge of the state.
We need to fix this reality. We need to build bridges not ignite fires – today even more than yesterday.
There is probably ten to fifteen percent of the population rageful and vengeful and hateful enough to start a wildfire of division that would engulf all of us. It is therefore imperative for the rest of us to work together and dampen the heat, form common bonds with people we do not agree with, and cross boundaries that only truly exist in the mind.
To be honest, I am not sure how to do that except by intention, will, and grit. I do know that forming bonds across the gap is likely the only thing that will save us from a horrendous political future and national nightmare.
I also know that we cannot count on the news media to be helpful because its self-interest is in attention-getting explosive headlines and reporting. Social media, in addition to face-to-face relationship building and organizing, will have to be the means by which we touch one another.
We need to sit closer together, ever so slightly touch, and talk with one another.