My friend Michael Goldfarb, just back from rust-belt America researching a pre-election profile of the turmoil, said today he hopes one candidate, Hillary Clinton obviously, references America in terms of Benjamin Disraeli's idea of Two Nations: "Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets."
And this divide isn't geographical or over a single great
issue: civil rights or Vietnam or even as Dizzy had it, "rich and poor."
It is more abstract than that and I don't know a of a single word or
phrase to explain it. But it really is soul-split.
Michael and I have discussed two nations before, and I have my own ideas about where this divide may be said to begin, somewhere in the confluence of the civil rights movement and the rise of television. But if we can't define the
two nations, we need to reconsider whether there actually are two, or
whether numerous smaller fissures in our society, which have always existed and have been exacerbated within our lifetimes, are now converging.
And more importantly, whether that convergence, in the face of our electronic information inputs and
electronic discourse outputs, have pressured many people into becoming one-issue fanatical true believers. Those one-issues usually centre around micro-political, personal,
'lifestyle' or 'identity' issues, as opposed to macro-political (economic, foreign policy, wider social justice), and they conform in allowing no tolerance of dissenters.
This would suggest a multitude
of nations, although the reality is that those multitudes still constitute a minority within the
larger multiple groups who engage in discourse. But their energy, harnessed through manipulation by politics and media, pulls the
political discourse away from what used to be the overlapping centre, at least as far
as a two party system goes. Yet the two party system itself is in some crisis at the moment, which more than anything would suggest two-nation America is a mirage, or at best a fragile illusion. And that Trump and Hillary are not Gladstone and Disraeli.