Walking my children to elementary school, we pass by a handful of folks out about morning business. We smile at them, and nod. To some, those we know by face or name, we say “good morning.” It’s the Thursday after the Tuesday. According to the morning news reports, emotions are still high. Each of us, nodding to the other, assumes an intimacy of agreement. But I wonder, how many of my neighbors, if we compared notes, would do battle with me? How many think the choice I made last week was wrong?
There’s a growing sense among many that America has become divided into the heartland, and the two coasts. City and country. Various maps floating around the Internet show an America split into three countries, two blue, one red. Some writers have suggested secession, in language that seems only half in jest. Others feel as if the Civil War might have returned.
This is a false view of the division. Indeed, the Red candidate’s best improvement came among urban voters. According to Gallup, his vote share among those city dwellers improved nine percent over his 2000 performance. And those red, rural voters? Six percent fewer voted Red in 2004 than did in 2000. Every community, every state contains people who voted for both presidential candidates.
There’s another map floating around the Internet. It, too, shows how the various states voted by color, mixing red and blue according to the proportions that voters chose Republican or Democrat in the presidential campaign. The map is shades of purple from east to west and north to south. (There is another map that breaks it down by county, too.)
We live cheek by jowl with those “other people.” Those other people are my neighbors, smiling and nodding hello.
Talking to my friends and family, there’s an undercurrent of geopolitical territory marking. We assume, in part because we are told to by clever political analysts, that we all agree with one another in our cohesive bands, that we all touched the same part of the screen in the voting booth. Those who disagree live out in the country, or over in the city. After all, didn’t we all have the same signs on our lawn?
Some of us, though, had no signs at all.
Now, anger remains. From one side, it emerges as hatred. From the other, gloating. Where will this anger go? On the quiet sidewalks of my community, it doesn’t come out as we talk to one another, except insofar as we shake our heads in smug agreement over the half of America who is not present, or as we despise the single American who ran to win against our choice. I’m certain my neighbors and I don’t see eye to eye on everything, but those subjects of disagreement seem to just slip by.
This silence is not the silence of the stifled. It’s a good thing. We live together, and we ought to work together. If we had to, I am sure we could talk about our disagreements. The needs of our community are much closer to home than the vast questions about who voted for whom nationally. Here at home, there are safety problems as people speed through the neighborhood avoiding congestion on larger streets, there are homeless shelters that need my support, there is my school trying its best and fighting what feels sometimes like a losing battle to keep up with all the demands we’ve heaped upon it. All of these are policy questions, driven by political leaders and the decisions they make. But they all have local faces.
A member of my family recently moved to an adjacent neighborhood, and has taken up the habit of a daily walk. He didn’t used to walk so much. He has come to know those he passes by on a daily basis, and likes them. He knows their names, and they his. I bet they don’t argue politics. I bet, if they had to, they could work together to make something happen.
I bet, when you get down to it, they’re purple.