I have always predicted this election would happen. An election where the candidates and their policies were basically irrelevant and the issue would be “real America” vs. actual America. I just thought it would be in 2024 or 2028. Let’s explore the difference between the two Americas, the Republican “real America” and its Democratic counterpart actual America.
I call our first America “real America” because the residents of this mythical land considered themselves to be the true Americans and the other residents of the nation to be interlopers. I put it in quotes because it does not represent a majority of the country. (I will stop putting in quotes at this point to make it easier to read). Real America exists in the South, the Great Plains, the Mountain States, and all across rural America. It is a sweeping, but largely empty landscape. Residents love to point out how much of the country is geographically Republican, but do not mention the fact that very few people live in these areas. Except for a few pockets of Hispanics in the mountain states and Native Americans on the Great Plains real Americans are exceedingly white. Real Americans tend to be less educated and make less money than their actual America counterparts. Real Americans are generally deeply religious, and of course guns are an important element of Real American culture. Real Americans live in the countryside and the suburbs, especially the outer suburbs. There are very few real American cities. Most real Americans prefer pickups, and have a culture that emphasizes masculinity. In the eyes of those who believe in it Real America is a perfect country. A place where wholesome, god fearing people go to work every day and don’t ever need government help. It is a place where every family has a house and the man is the head of that house. It is a place where tradition triumphs over change and the Constitution is not a framework for government, but specific instructions. Real America is of course a place more diverse and complicated than the white picket fantasy that its political class wants to realize. The America they believe in doesn’t exist anymore, even on Nick at Nite.
Real America’s politics are generally in line with the Republican Party if not more conservative. The high rates of church attendance, usually evangelical churches, and gun ownership means that on social issues Real America is very conservative and tends to see the liberalizing elements of actual America as a threat to their very way of life. Real Americans see foreign policy as unchanged since the 1950’s when the U.S. was undisputed leader of the free world, and military strength was the only important element of foreign policy. Real America places high a high value on hard work and self-reliance, thus they tend to look down on government social programs. They tend to support tax cuts and deregulation not so much in support of business, but out of distrust of the government. Real Americans support smaller government; they see government as run by liberal leaning educated elites.
Actual America is a very different place from real America. It is a far more densely populated place, packed onto the coasts and into major cities and their inner suburbs. Actual Americans are far more multicultural than their red state brethren. In actual America no racial, religious, or cultural group holds a majority. Church attendance is lower in actual America, and a far greater religious diversity exists. Education levels tended to higher in these areas, and incomes are generally higher. Actual America doesn’t have a grand vision of itself like real America does. The media doesn’t feed actual America a vision of itself like it does with real America. Also actual America is too diverse to come up with its own vision, and is largely too busy to dwell on the idea.
The main political agreements in actual America revolve on social issues and foreign policy. People in these areas are supportive of greater rights for women, gays, and liberalizing society in general. Most people in actual America see foreign policy in economic terms, particularly trade and development, rather than in military terms. People in these regions see the U.S. as a leader among nations instead of as the leading nation. While greater divisions exist in actual America on the role of government, and on economic issues in generally they tend to be to the left of real America on nearly everything.
This election has become about the conflict between these two Americas. Each side unable to reach out to populations on the other side, and the level of rhetoric has escalated exponentially. These trends are baffling to beltway insiders, but to those who of us who have lived in rural America it is more obvious. Real America is not the unchanging place its proponents would believe it to be. Over the last thirty years it has been getting bombarded by outside influence, and in many ways consumerism has destroyed the traditional culture of these areas. With no culture remaining, these areas have increasing begun to identify their culture through politics. The heightened tensions in politics today can be explained by the fact that real America is lashing out against changes in their community. Another contributing factor is that real America’s culture has become almost exclusively political, which means that to maintain their culture they must opposed everything the other thing side proposes. Actual America doesn’t have the same anger that real America has. They tend to view their erstwhile counterparts with curiosity rather than anger. American politics will grow only more bitter as those in actual American finally start fighting back in the culture wars. In this election they has just begun to fight.