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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Polarization has impact on where we live

     For many people travelling to other parts of our Country means experiencing different climates or terrain.  For me it is experiencing other people and cultures.  Differences in people are always more fascinating than the change in scenery.  Last week's blog on Salt Lake City is an example of what I experience on a trip.  We don't realize how we all live in a bubble called Columbia until you travel out of state.

   This becomes apparent out West when you see all the pawn shops that advertise that you can get cash for your guns.  When we visited Carson City, Nevada it seemed like we were on the set of an old western.  No Whole Foods here but plenty of guns, bars and gambling options.  Not surprising that the Bundy standoff occurred in Nevada. I couldn't help but notice how many people smoked there.  The Surgeon General's messages must have missed this part of the Country.
      Of course you don't have to travel out of state to see the divide in culture of our Country.  Just watch how the same topic is discussed on Fox News and MSNBC.   A few evenings last week I would bounce between the two channels to see how each lived in a different world.   On Fox the news that Iraq is falling apart was seen as the weakness Obama administration and our pull out a couple years ago.  Is John McClain ever going to get over his losing to Obama?  On MSNBC the slant was of our mistake to have ever invaded Iraq and the limits of military invasions in ever solving political disputes.
      Is it any wonder that with increasing mobility that we are deciding where to live based on our cultural values?  As put it:
""The places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote like we do," Bill Bishop noted in his 2008 book, The Big Sort. In a country driven by personal choice, he claimed, one thing Americans have been choosing to do is to live among the like-minded—and at a distance from those holding opposing views."
      For me this reality was real when I became engaged to a person who lived in Virginia.  When it came time to discuss where we would live after we married I was sure I wasn't moving to Virginia and have elected officials like the Byrd family of Virginia, the old capitol of the Confederacy.  The Virginia of the 1970's was not like Virginia today.  The past segregated South was not a distant memory at that time.  Here in Maryland we had our liberal Republican and Democrat officials like Mac Mathias and Paul Sarbanes.  What I see in where my children and their Columbia school friends have chosen to live continues this trend of where to live.  Not many are choosing "red states."  The marriage equality issue has really pushed this trend.  Many young people growing up in Columbia can't imagine living in a state that bars gay marriage and reproductive choice.
      So where does this sorting lead?  Are we seeing the beginnings of our Country coming apart?  When do our differences become more important than our shared history and values?  There used to be a time when our opinions were developed by all watching the same news programs and believing in what Walter Cronkite told us "and that's the way it is."   Now it seems we live in a Country where our "echo chambers" divide us culturally.

    Unfortunately a return home also meant catching up on the latest shootings in Baltimore.  When I travel I  usually mention that we live near DC.  Saying we live just below Baltimore brings on discussions about how much of the Baltimore is like what they have seen on "Homicide-Life on the Streets" and "The Wire."

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