America Is Coming Apart at the Seams

7 Dec

america coming apart

2012 Dec 5, 2014 3:39 PM EST

By Francis Wilkinson

It was the most Republican of times, it was the most Democratic of times.

That’s the U.S. right now, a nation heading in two diametrically opposed directions. Where you live in the country has always influenced how you live. But divergent public policy choices, rooted in sharp partisan conflict, are heightening the geographic distinctions.

House Republicans this week passed legislation designed primarily to channel conservative rage and secondarily to vaporize 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Republicans won’t provide funds to deport the immigrants, and they won’t provide a method of rationalizing those immigrants’ existence here. So they will simply pretend that they don’t exist.

In January, the first Republican legislative act of 2015 is expected to be another vote to repeal Obamacare, the health-care reform that has been working out better than even its proponents predicted.

Meanwhile, across the the continent, California Democratic Governor Jerry Brown also has immigrants and health care on his mind. Brown is analyzing whether the state can extend its version of Medicaid health insurance to undocumented immigrants who are covered by President Barack Obama’s executive action on amnesty.


“We’re still evaluating, but the president’s recent action on undocumented immigrants could perhaps open a door for more coverage of more people under Medi-Cal,’’ Nancy McFadden, the governor’s top policy aide, told the Los Angeles Times.

California is not just a blue state with a Democratic governor and legislature. It’s home to almost one in eight Americans. And it has by far the nation’s largest population of undocumented immigrants — one in four live there, according to the Pew Research Center.

So in the very near future, undocumented immigrants who reside in California (some by virtue of having snuck illegally over the border) may be covered by publicly-funded health insurance while many U.S. citizens living in Texas and the Deep South will have no access to health insurance of any kind, thanks to the Republican war on Obamacare. (In Texas, more than one quarter of the population lacks health insurance, a number that seems stubbornly resistant to the charms of the “Texas miracle.”)

The U.S. also looks like two different places when it comes to guns and abortion. In Washington state, for example, where abortion law was recently liberalized, there are no waiting periods, mandated parental involvement or limitations on publicly funded abortion. In Mississippi, restrictions are plentiful, and the state government has been working steadily to shut the sole abortion clinic in the state. On guns, Connecticut voters reelected a Democratic governor who supported sweeping gun regulations in the wake of the Newtown shooting. In Georgia, you can now legally carry a loaded firearm into a bar.

immigration 1

Then there are voting rights. Legislators in red states, such as North Carolina and Texas, have been adding carefully crafted layers of difficulty to voting, from voter ID laws to reduced early voting and restrictions on student ballots. Illinois, meanwhile, appears poised to enact same-day registration for voting.

The Chicago Sun-Times:

Besides allowing people to register and vote on the same day at polling places, the bill would allow extended early voting, as well as make it easier for students to vote at college campuses.

Increasingly, the rights of many American citizens depend less on the U.S. Constitution and more on which state they live in. Again, this isn’t a new phenomenon — especially for blacks, who had no guaranteed rights in most of the South for most of American history. But the divergence is stark.

And growing. As Bloomberg News reporter Greg Giroux reported, many red and blue states are only deepening their partisan identities as voters increasingly abandon split-ticket voting:

If Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu loses her runoff election next week, the Senate that convenes in January will have 84 senators of the same political party that carried their state in the most recent presidential election. That’s the most in more than six decades, according to statistics compiled by Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego. There were 61 such senators in 1999, after the second midterm election of President Bill Clinton’s administration, and 43 in 1987.

There’s also more partisan alignment in voting for the House of Representatives and for president.

Polarization has its own logic. And as red and blue states pursue their sharply divergent versions of government, each increasingly presents a vision of Dickensian hell to the other.


To contact the author on this story: Francis Wilkinson at

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