The United States is split into two countries. Conservatives and liberals, red state and blue state, pro-abortion and anti-abortion. It is the greatest division since the Civil War.
The conservative Supreme Court overturned case law last month that had provided constitutional protection for abortion since 1973 under the Roe v. Wade decision. The court also held that a New York state law banning the possession of guns in public places was unconstitutional. It has ruled in favor of conservatives on abortion, gun possession, religious freedom and climate change, all of which have a huge impact on American lives. These decisions appear to be marking a new milestone in conservative judicial activism. A shift to the right in America has accelerated.
Lee Epstein, a professor at the University of Southern California, said the Supreme Court has exhibited its most conservative colors since 1931. The right wing of the court is led by three Donald Trump appointees: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Conservative justices have rejected the long-standing principle of precedent, drawing criticism to the court for ignoring the speed bump of judicial restraint. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced the Supreme Court as Trump’s judiciary.
Political polarization is the main cause of social division. Cooperation between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, which navigated the Great Depression and World War II and was part of postwar American politics, has been gone since the 1970s. Partisanship became the new normal in Washington after the Watergate scandal, which led to Richard Nixon’s resignation, and Newt Gingrich’s demagoguery in the 1990s. The Republican Party has achieved what it hoped to; its movement to the right is at its peak.
Republicans oppose gun control and abortion and support tax cuts and deregulation. The party has transformed from a party of small government to a party that is anti-government. A confrontation with the Democratic Party, which values the human rights of minorities and bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, is inevitable. The stagnation of local newspapers weakened the media’s ability to serve as a watchdog. Since 2004, 2,100 local newspapers have disappeared. More than half of America’s counties publish a single daily newspaper. Any opposition to the Republican Party narrative paralyzes legislation, which impedes the democratic process. The Republicans’ cunning survival strategy is to veto everything as a vetocracy.
Republicans benefited from the constitutional principle that allotted two senators per state to accommodate the interest of states with smaller populations. Wyoming, with a population of 580,000 people, and California, with a population of 39 million, have two senators each. However, the Republican Party’s future is uncertain due to rapid demographic changes.
By 2042, people of color will form the majority in the United States. Every four years, the percentage of white voters declines by two percentage points. The proportion of white voters continues to fall in the swing states that determine the outcome of presidential and Senate elections. Between 2020 and 2036, the percentage of non-white voters in Texas will surge from 50% to 60%. The number of non-white voters in Georgia and Arizona will also increase by seven and 10 percentage points respectively.
The minority party approval rating for six major bills passed by the Barack Obama and Trump administrations, including the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare,” tax cuts and financial reform legislation, was only 3%. In the Senate vote to confirm the first Black female nominee to the Supreme Court, only three Republicans voted to confirm, including Sen. Mitt Romney. Partisanship has become the keyword of American politics. As the late Sen. Bob Dole claimed, mutual distrust has grown and cooperation has disappeared.
Trump is at the center of these divisive and hate-driven politics. He plays the role of the Republican kingmaker. He wields powerful influence over the primary elections for candidates who will run in the midterm elections. He is a megalomaniac who believes in alternative facts that are out of touch with reality. And while former Vice President Dick Cheney is considered deranged, two-thirds of white high school graduates and 80% of evangelical believers are avid Trump fans.
Economic inequality has also had a major impact. The proportion of middle class citizens fell to 51% in 2019. During the financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, the wealth of the middle and working classes declined, while wealth was concentrated in the top 10%. Over the past 40 years, unregulated neoliberal policies have exacerbated the distribution of wealth in American society.
In a recent Monmouth University poll, 88% of adults said, “America is on the wrong track.” In a Gallup poll, trust in major institutions such as Congress, the Supreme Court and the military plummeted from 46% in 1989 to 27% this year. In previous national crises, the United States has been open to putting the common good before individual freedom. By reviving idealism, America could heal its current divide.