There is a huge dichotomy in the US population. It has afflicted this nation for over 70 years, once it emerged onto the cultural stage. The birth pangs of the split were heard in the sounds of bebop jazz in the smoky clubs of the big cities after WWII. It was the antithesis to the charted arrangements of Big Band Jazz so beloved by true Americans. Bebop jazz begat Beat poetry and the Beatniks who emerged out of the some of the same underground urban cafes and bars in the 1950’s. Both movements represented an expression of discontent against a stultifying culture crushing all non-conformity after the end of the great war.
Against the tiny fragment of the counterculture was the mass of American culture. Since the shared experience of WWII, a mythological vision of a sacred crusade was created, and was shared by the visual media. Movies reinforced this image, with the heroic sacrifices undertaken by American soldiers eventually overwhelming the powers of evil across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The new medium of television though, was the true glue of American culture, delivering the images evoking an era of American greatness. No societal problems emerged in the pristine suburban images of the white American family as they navigated through existential crises, such as how to recover from a burnt roast when the husband was about to bring home the boss for dinner. Teenage angst was a prime theme.
At the end of the 1950’s, network television deigned to acknowledge the existence of the counterculture. The first beatnik character, Maynard G. Krebs, appeared with his bongos and love of bebop jazz. That he was portrayed as an object of ridicule was deliberate, since the majority of the audience couldn’t identify with someone who didn’t love Lawrence Welk as the epitome of popular music.
Simmering underneath the smooth surface of American culture, several trends ensured that America would never again be as homogenous. The huge bulge of demographics referred to as the baby boom took center stage. It brought overt licentiousness, made possible by the miracle of birth control. Finally youthful sexual energy could be exercised without the consequences of unintended pregnancy, and the shame that brought upon a respectable family. Meanwhile, an entire segment of society had reached their breaking point, and exerted their communal will in an attempt to escape from the cage of Jim Crow and its codes, both written and unwritten. And finally, there was the long trudge through the jungles of Viet Nam, where thousands died fighting against a shadowy enemy that never had the guts to take on our boys in a fair fight. The toll taken by this prolonged slaughter unleashed the children of the ’50’s to become the radicals of the ’60’s.
By the late 1960’s, the split was spreading across society. On one side, there were those who were convinced that any dissent and protest against the social order was unpatriotic. They supported the government whole-heartedly, and jeered the long-haired hippies whenever they came into contact with them. The election of 1968 showed the split, where the Republican victor identified with the hard hat segment of the electorate. The Democrats were destined to wear the mantle of disorder sown in the streets of Chicago during their convention. The sides were now established, and the barriers between the sides became more rigid over the years.
Since the split emerged in the1960’s, technology has aided and abetted its existence. The computer revolution enabled communication platforms to sprout prolifically. In particular, one segment of the political spectrum glommed onto the older technology of radio. With the decline in music listening on AM radio stations due to FM and new personal music devices, AM radio stations became the platforms for talk shows. A critical mass of listeners and participants found common ground, as they decried the immorality of society and the evil nature of government as it enforced its unpopular dictates. Soon the descendants of the hard hats of the 1960’s found they were able to influence the Republican party, and formed a merger between the two groups. Since the traditional affiliation of Republicans with the capitalist class could not command a majority at the legislative level, the Republican party welcomed these cultural warriors into their ranks. They could not foresee the day when the cultural conservatives would seize control.
Traditional alliances among the parties splintered and shattered over the decades. With the identification of Democrats with civil rights, the southern electorate split away from that party. Instead of yellow dog Democrats, the solid Republican south emerged, forming the base from which electoral raids would be launched over the following decades. More and more, the Democratic party was identified as the party of the inner city, and it was content to let that association develop as long as they could maintain legislative control.
But thanks to the superior organizing capability of the Republicans, the solid ground of the Democratic majority in Congress and in state legislatures was turning swampy. The Republicans realized in the long game, it was organization at the state and local levels that would eventually result in transforming this nation into one where territory held mattered more than even votes did. When Republican legislatures emerged, they used the power of redistricting to ensure their ability to shape Congressional districts into fiefdoms of generational power. The long game paid off after the 2010 census, when the new district lines ensured that the emergent Tea Party could hold onto their seats and effect real change.
When an amoral pretender to the throne actually achieved electoral success in 2016, and was duly elected as President, the jacquerie was complete. Through his understanding of the resentments built up since the 1960’s against the government, and those elitists running the economy and institutions, he was able to manipulate resentment into a winning strategy. That he had no intention of fulfilling many of his promises was not important to those who voted for him. They wished mainly to stick their thumb into the eye of the establishment.
Now we are heading swiftly into the next Presidential election cycle. On the Republican side, the takeover of the party by the adherents of Trump appears complete. He has been successful in demanding strict loyalty to this point. But, the elections of 2018, and the ill-fated shutdown, have seemed to slightly weaken the bonds binding legislators to Trump. Cracks are showing in the edifice. Whether facts presented in upcoming committee hearings, or in the long-anticipated Mueller report will pry more Republican legislators from the boa’s embrace is yet to be seen.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are wandering in the electoral wilderness, with new prophets springing up on almost every street corner, each one believing they alone have the recipe and the baking skills to succeed. Succeed in standing first among their party, then succeed in the office they believed was stolen from them in 2016. Fond dreams are enunciated, and with each new declaration, the Republicans are using their focus group-derived counterpunches. Impeachment and socialism are decreed to be the only concerns that Democrats have. It is more important to discredit the messengers than it is to debate on the merits. Still, given the fragmented and transitory attention span of the American electorate, this strategy may well prove successful.
That a President whose approval has hovered between 35% and 45% for his entire term so far could even conceivably win reelection is difficult to believe. Even with his abundant failures of policy to date, and his lack of leadership at enacting legislation, and his moral deficiencies, if the Democrats allow themselves to be identified by the memes created by the Republicans, the Democrats may once more pull defeat from the jaws of victory.