The Two Americas

Bruce Hartford, 2010

Originally posted in a discussion thread about the 2010 mid-term elections.

As I look at U.S. history, from the very beginning there were two different Americas at political war with each other.

One was/is the America of naked individualism and unadulterated appetite to the exclusion of compassion for others or recognition of the importance of community interests. That's the America of racism, genocide, ethnic and religious bigotry, exploitation, greed, imperialist expansion, jingoism, anti-intellectualism, and homage and obeisance the aristocracy of wealth. The America of the Puritans, feudal slave-owning plantation aristocrats, Indian exterminators, "Know-Nothings and Mugwumps, KKK, America-Firsters, White Citizens Council and the modern Tea Party.

The other America was/is the America of individualism balanced by a sense of the fundamental importance of community-interests. It's the America of liberty, equality, justice, freedom of thought and religion, equal opportunity, and social contracts and compacts that balancing individual rights against collective needs. The progressive America of the Enlightenment, "We hold these truths..." Abolitionists, "Government of the people..." Suffragettes, Wobblies, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses..." the CIO, the Freedom Movement of the 1960s, and so on down the decades.

Ever have those two Americas been at war with each other. As a broad generalization, in electoral terms each of those two Americas has about a third of the voting population (more or less in different eras and more or less in different geographic regions). The remaining third swing back and forth on given issues and candidates and back and forth on whether to bother to vote at all. I don't see much hope of making significant changes among that third who adhere to a vision of America that we so strongly oppose (nor are they likely to change us). So for me, the focus of political work has to be on educating, organizing, and mobilizing the progressive America and influencing that middle, uncommitted third who swing back and forth.


Copyright © Bruce Hartford


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