Ed Driscoll


AMERICA IS DIVIDED: “So what” says Jonah Goldberg, and he’s right.

Of course, it also depends on what your definition of “divided” is:

First of all, until you’ve got more than 600,000 American bodies stacked up like cordwood, spare me the “more divided than ever before” talk. We have this phrase in political discourse which is very useful. It goes like this: “…since the end of the Civil War…” You can put it at the end or the beginning of almost any sentence to indicate that you are discussing trends that began after the War Between the States concluded. Because that period in American history is what you might call a statistical outlier. We were really divided then, what with all the shooting each other and stuff. Even in places where there was no shooting, we were very divided. The New York Draft Riots, for example, featured mobs of 50,000 ticked-off New Yorkers and Irish immigrants who burned big chunks of the city over three days and hanged a lot of black people from street lights. I know the Florida recount was a big deal and all, but let’s get a little perspective.

Second, I haven’t looked at the survey data on this question since I was a policy gnome at the American Enterprise Institute, but it seems to me that one could make a persuasive argument that America was more deeply divided in, let’s see: the 1780s, 1790s, 1840s, 1850s, 1860s, 1890s, 1920s, 1930s, 1960s, 1970s, and possibly the 1980s and 1990s. Now, it may be true, as Greenberg suggests, that we are now more evenly divided than at any time–possibly including the Civil War period. But evenly divided people can, and often do, settle their differences with Nerf bats or over checkers or even, don’t you know, at the ballot box. Deeply divided people, on the other hand, are more likely to use guns, knives, and really pointy rocks to settle their differences.

In other words, living in an evenly divided society is an interesting challenge politically, but not a really big problem, while living in a deeply divided society is cause for stocking up on bottled water and shotgun shells.