A New York Times opinion piece about “political bubbles” has been making the rounds on social media this past week. Readers have the ability to enter their address to see the political persuasion of the closest thousand voters, and whether they exist in a bubble. But the piece misses a number of important considerations, undermines its own expressed concern about increasing polarization by playing politics, and holds important lessons for local communities and the country at large.
The piece, which is entitled “Do You Live in a Political Bubble?”, begins with a series of interactive graphics which helps to orient readers toward the point, by not only using their own address, but contrasting overwhelmingly-Democratic Bay Area California with heavily-Republican Gillette, Wyoming, and how their residents may have been unenthused about the results of 2016 and 2020, respectively.
The opinion’s authors highlight how Democrats and Republicans are “increasingly alienated from each other, rhetorically and geographically,” and wonders how such a “segregated political landscape” came about. The piece worries about what this might lead to if such division continues — and then lays the blame at the feet of Republicans for everything from racist zoning policies to modern-day congressional redistricting.
Suddenly, however, the authors then pivot and reject politics as a primary reason for political insulation, arguing that a difference in “lifestyle choices” is the primary factor. True, as the authors cite, most Americans want safe neighborhoods with good schools to call home — but how does a preference for a walkable community or a larger home cause an intractable political divide? In other words, it isn’t politics to blame — but Republican politics.
The piece highlights census-based legal challenges to Republican state legislatures over their redistricting (while omitting anything about challenges to Democratic legislatures) and urges President Biden to reform policies which would make it easier for Democrats to move out of cities and Republicans to move in. Strangely, the authors previously concede in their writing that this sort of thing would not likely affect where Republicans and Democrats live — and thus, the bubbles and divisions remain.
Like most things in life, the explanations aren’t singular or specific. The reasons why Americans live where they do are plentiful — from lifestyle to culture to personal preference to affordability to family and tradition to, yes, politics, and more. After all, a preference for rural quiet or city lights counts for something, as well as whether you back the blue or want to see the police defunded.
If you represent a district which is mostly Democratic, why would you feel a need to listen to a minority of Republicans who feel a different way about something? If you compromise, you’ll be labeled a traitor, a coward, or a sellout for not standing up on principle, and you’ll be replaced by someone more extreme. And contrapositionally, if your voice isn’t being heard in one area, or is declared unwelcome, why would you stick around? Why wouldn’t you move somewhere you felt you mattered?
The census for 2020 has demonstrated just that. It’s been mostly Republican states that have seen an increase in residents — and thereby, congressional seats. A sheriff in Florida recently welcomed newcomers, but urged them not to vote in their new home for the kinds of policies that compelled them to move in the first place. Likewise, liberal residents of Colorado and Oregon won’t want to see their new arrivals vote conservative.
Simply, geography and relocation often form the last-resort when all else fails. Our nation’s history is based on that reality: a new world apart from the old, an ocean between the past and the future, between America and the vast array of history. There is a very human desire to be where one feels he or she belongs — to be loved.
Conversely, it’s true that extremism exists on all ends of the political map. But the authors of the New York Times piece don’t seem to take into account that it isn’t conservatives calling for blacklists of Trump supporters, or that the “woke” supporters of cancel culture are of the left, or that it is members of the left who are rioting in Portland.
And that’s not even to consider the very political issues themselves which have put Americans on opposite sides — as well as the language employed to pursue their enacting. If you oppose increasing the number of judges on the Supreme Court, for example, some will accuse you of supporting an inherently racist institution and opposing political balance. This kind of virulent reaction isn’t going to be settled by a mailing address. It can only be settled by the human heart.
Political clashes are a mainstay of American life, and it is partly through political exercise that we chart our course. The danger is not where we come to live — but when politics becomes the only course we choose.
Joe Vigliotti, a contributor to The Flip Side and a Taneytown city councilman, writes from Taneytown. His column appears every other Friday. Email him through his website at www.jvigliotti.com.