It's certainly true that a white person like me can integrate into these diverse worlds fairly seamlessly, while for others the division is palpable and worsening. It can sometimes be difficult to see just how much change is happening in an unstoppable way. The year before Donald Trump was elected, my parents received a swastika in their mailbox on Christmas Day. Up until then, in the two decades since they had left California, nothing of the sort had happened. I've heard many examples of the growing population of brown and black people being profiled by local police. There are many Confederate flags in Kansas cities, and at least a few dots in the state can still be seen on the Southern Poverty Law Center's annual publication hate group card.
Still, I maintain that Mr. Kobach and his ilk recognize – and fear – how real the change is.
I know several farmers in the immediate vicinity of my parents' house who vote democratically, support abortion rights and queer and transgender rights, and are as knowledgeable about computerized combines as they are about cattle castration. Some have switched to organic. Others do without the plow altogether. scientists at the country institute, co-founded by my friend Wes Jackson, develop perennial grains that can produce food while leaving the soil undisturbed. This reduces the amount of soil carbon released into the air and also significantly reduces erosion and the need for industrial chemicals.
Wes once told me his definitions of town and country: rural places turn resources into goods and urban places consume those goods. It's a rough definition, but I like how it reveals the symbiosis between town and country, making it visible as two parts of a whole. The general assumption is that the border between red and blue states is a wall. But perhaps the relentless repetition of this binary assumption places too much emphasis on differences and not enough on a common humanity. As Pete Seeger sang in the old workers' song: “Here town and country meet – we will not be moved.”
The problems this country faces – revanchist racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, homophobia, climate change, economic injustice, the destruction of smallholder culture, too many assault rifles – are enormous and the worldview gap out there is staggering. But the truth is not only, as Gertrude Stein wrote, that “difference is spreading,” but also that difference is spreading. While our enclaves shine more polarized than ever on-line, in this United States we may indeed be more mixed, more humanly diverse than we have led to believe. In other words, we may feel more polarized than we actually are.
Jesse Nathan's first book: “egg tooth‘, a collection of poems, will be published in September.