Hardly united, our country is more like the conjoined states of America, but separating the two major cultural factions would be messy. Perhaps fatal.
There’s a curious place in our cultural imagination when it comes to conjoined twins. Sisters Abby and Brittany Hensel, identical twins with rather different personalities who share one physical form, captivated audiences with their reality TV series in 2012 that explored how they navigate life together. Whether they’re driving a car with each twin operating one arm and leg, or obtaining two separate passports, the sisters must find ways to cooperate within the confines of their shared body. Separating them would be impossible without endangering one or both of their lives. They are intertwined, sharing organs and circulation. A danger to one is a danger to both.
Today, as the Electoral College prepares to meet (virtually) and tally their votes in a Constitutionally-mandated formality that is expected to award Joe Biden the presidency, I am reminded that the United States is really more conjoined than united and has been for a long time now. The two major political factions have become more than simply coalitions that form at election time in order to block a greater evil from winning political office. It’s cultural, too. With divisions stoked by media outlets for profit and by political operatives for power (and probably profit too, for that matter), it may be too late to heal the wound.
A recent Matt Taibbi piece blames the worsening culture war on the idea that America’s ruling elites no longer have a compelling reason to care about the future of the country or a sense of shared sacrifice with the people who live in it. As such, there’s no perceived need for them to invest in projects that improve life for everyday Americans, nor sponsor unifying narratives that deter unrest. As a result, Taibbi notes, “the Democratic message increasingly focuses on the illegitimacy of the ordinary conservative voter’s opinion: ignorant, conspiratorial, and racist, so terrible that the only hope is mass-reprogramming by educated betters,” while Republicans “have warned that coalitions of ‘marauders’ from the inner cities and ‘bad hombres’ from across the border are plotting to use socialist politics to seize the hard-earned treasure of the small-town voter.”
Like conjoined twins that hate each other yet can never go their separate ways, we’re trapped in a contest of wills, each side believing they’re the good guys. Consider the QAnon conspiracy theory. To some, it’s proof positive that Donald Trump is fighting a holy war against child-molesting deep state operatives. To those inclined to dig deeper, it’s a stunningly clever, multi-layered psy-op, deliberately crafted to discredit progressives while bringing new supporters into the Trump camp. Reality is less important than the perception, the truthy look and feel of what one really wishes were true so much that they end up believing it is.
All of which brings us to the Texas lawsuit that was rejected by the Supreme Court last Friday. Thankfully, this contest between four states where expanded mail-in voting during a pandemic gave more Americans the opportunity to have a say in government, and a passel of entities (including two “alternative” states) who believe that Trump is the only legitimate President whether he wins the election or not, and would prefer that he be granted a second term by fiat, resulted in a win for those to whom the will of the voters still matters. Disgruntled parties on the losing side are now talking about making America great again via war or secession.
Friday, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) wrote to Speaker Pelosi, invoking Article I, Section 5 of the United States Constitution, proposing that Congress unseat the activist members that attempted to use the court system to overthrow the will of the voters. He writes, “Stated simply, men and women who would act to tear the United States government apart cannot serve as Members of the Congress. These lawsuits seeking to obliterate public confidence in our democratic system by invalidating the clear results of the 2020 presidential election attack the text and spirit of the Constitution, which each Member swears to support and defend…”
What Pascrell and the rest of Team Blue need to realize is that to Trump’s base, it’s the Democrats who appear seditious, illegitimate and unAmerican. Backing down at this point would feel like capitulation, yet unless one side or the other does so, the situation could escalate to the open violence of another civil war. It’s difficult to live, yoked to people so different, but neither can we divide the country along a neat line along the middle anymore. Which is worse, both sides feeling a constant, simmering resentment with periodic eruptions in the culture war, or an attempt to divide the Conjoined States of America, exposing all to suffering and death in order to separate us?