Americans Must Get to Know One Another Again
By Isabel Sawhill, January 4, 2021 in Foreign Affairs
This fall, Americans chose Joe Biden as their new president, and many people breathed a sigh of relief. But doing so may be premature. Americans have a new president but not a new country. The United States remains sharply divided: more than 74 million people—47 percent of the electorate—voted to reelect President Donald Trump. As of this writing, Trump has not conceded, claiming that the election was rigged or fraudulent. Even though courts have found these claims to be without merit, more than a third of all voters and 70 to 80 percent of those who voted for Trump agree with the president’s narrative. His refusal to accept the legitimacy of the election will undermine Biden as he seeks to consolidate the support needed to govern successfully.
Why is the United States so divided? Until Americans and their leaders address this question, liberal democracy will remain under threat and the country will see its soft power diminished—even as international threats and authoritarian or populist governments elsewhere grow.
The failure of Trump’s base to accept his defeat is the latest manifestation of a new identity politics driven by both culture and economics. The United States’ two political parties are sorting into distinctive groups based on who they are rather than on their policy preferences. Republicans tend to be religious, rural, native-born, older, male, and less educated. They are overwhelmingly white and working class. Democrats are just the opposite. The Republican base may be shrinking as the population ages and people of color gradually become the majority, but U.S. political institutions, from the Electoral College to the Senate, favor Republicans’ rural and small-state base.