BERNSTEIN: We live in two different Americas – RU Daily Targum

Posted: November 7, 2020 at 9:02 pm

As I write this piece, the United States has still not declared a victor for the 2020 presidential election. By the time this piece is published, a winner will likely have been declared, legal struggles and recounts could delay a definitive verdict for months.

Likewise, the painfully close nature of this race, close both for Democrats assured of a former Vice President Joe Biden landslide and President Donald J. Trump supporters who anticipated a sweeping victory, means that those hoping to come away from the election with a clear picture of the character and values of America will be left with more questions than answers.

But perhaps therein lies the point. To call America a divided country in modern times would be an understatement: Across both state and party lines, Americans are living under significantly different systems of law, subscribing to radically different accounts of reality and engaging in exceedingly varied walks of life.

Consider, for example, the referendum passed in Oregon this week to decriminalize illegal drugs, in addition to the legalization (with restrictions) of psilocybin, a psychedelic substance commonly referred to as "magic mushrooms."

We now live in a country where an individual can face criminal charges for marijuana possession in many states, while incurring no criminal penalty for the possession of heroin in at least one. Of course, the legality of drug use is only one out of many examples where the law differs across state lines: Gun control, public education standards and the death penalty figure among other conspicuous examples.

While the right to an abortion is federally legal under Roe v. Wade, access to abortion clinics varies across the country. Furthermore, should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the current Supreme Court, a concern for Democrats now that conservative justices hold a 6-3 majority, the bodily rights of women will become even more disparate across state lines.

Even if we ignore the heterogeneity of state governments, terms such as "American life" and "American culture" prove especially slippery and difficult to define. How many similarities can we really draw between the lives of rural Americans and the lives of city-dwellers?

And among these similarities, how many of them can we call universally American as opposed to universally human? The socio-economic realities facing American citizens quite regularly vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, let alone state to state.

A still more intractable question presents itself when we investigate the differences between the worldviews of Americans with differing political opinions. We no longer argue only over what is right, but also over what is real. The widespread availability of information in the digital age has ensured the widespread availability of misinformation as well.

How can we talk of universal American ideals when we cannot even agree, at a basic level, on what is happening in America? When an online conspiracy theory such as QAnon, which accuses Democratic "elites" of "Satanism" (among other, even more untoward charges) has achieved enough mainstream success that those who support it have won congressional seats this year?

No, none of this disparity is necessarily new in the United States, nor is it necessarily a bad thing on principle that Americans are not tied together by a unifying experience. The problem arises when we ignore the inherent lack of unity in our country. It arises when we talk broadly about "national" issues in a country as large and heterogeneous as America, and then we wonder why nobody can agree on these issues.

But above all else, the problem arises due to our clumsiness in adapting to the digital age. Social media harbors the potential to meaningfully connect people who would never cross paths in a world without modern technology. But so far it has spread more ill-will between strangers than amity. In an ideal society, online news sources could beget a political renaissance of well-informed citizens and easier, quicker access to the going-ons of the world.

But in practice, skepticism of the news has flourished in the digital age like never before, and a greater emphasis on national politics, at the expense of local news sources, threatens to alienate readers, who rarely see a straight line between the content of headlines and the struggles of their daily life.

Although I admire my country and the political philosophy upon which it was founded, a deep problem presents itself in the way we structure our national identity, a problem that will continue to fester if left untreated.

The soul of the United States is not singular. If we want our nation to thrive, we need to start having multifaceted conversations instead of one-dimensional arguments. We need to address a larger scope of issues in politics than the few, somewhat arbitrary ones we find ourselves incessantly revisiting.

We need to look toward a political system that accounts for a great diversity of thought instead of a system that tries to express the vast complexity of American experience in a binary fashion. The sooner we accept these realities, the sooner we can move beyond these last four years of division, confusion and anger.

Daniel Bernstein is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore looking to major in cell biology and neuroscience and mathematics. His column, "Mind You," runs on alternate Fridays.

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BERNSTEIN: We live in two different Americas - RU Daily Targum

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