The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The astounding political divide over what it means to be ‘American’

A demonstrator wears a variation of the hat that President Trump made famous (Mark Ralston/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

President Trump's second executive order banning visitors from six predominantly Muslim states from entering the country lands in an America deeply divided on what it means to be, well, American.

That's according to a new AP-NORC poll that suggests that there are really two Americas right now: a Republican one and a Democratic one.


* Nearly six in 10 Republicans (57 percent) think that “a culture grounded in Christian religious beliefs” is important to our American identity. Just 29 percent of Democrats say the same.

* Forty-six percent of Republicans say that “a culture established by the country’s early European immigrants” is an important part of what makes us Americans, while just 25 percent of Democrats agree.

* Two-thirds of Democrats cite the “mixing of cultures and values from around the world” as fundamentally American. Just a third of Republicans (35 percent) feel the same way.

“Democrats are more likely than Republicans to consider the nation’s diversity and the ability of people to immigrate to the United States as important, while Republicans are more inclined to cite the importance of the use of English and sharing a culture, preferably based on Christian beliefs and European customs,” read a memo on the poll's results.

What the numbers suggest is that not only are Democrats and Republicans living in two different countries — socially, culturally and politically — but they also don't even agree on what the country should, at its center, be. Partisanship now extends not just to whom you vote for and why but also what you think the United States is and should be.

What's both fascinating and deeply problematic — from a political perspective — is that neither side has enough people to declare victory over the other.

The 2016 election showed the standoff in stark relief. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes — 65,844,610 for her to 62,979,636 for Donald Trump. But Trump won the electoral college 306 to 232 over Clinton.  The county-by-county map of the election results tells the story of just how divided we are:

What that map also shows is how little red and blue America interact with one another. Living near people who disagree with you politically is just something that no longer happens regularly in this country. Increasingly, Democratic America and Republican America don't talk to each other. That makes it easier to demonize the other side. And to harden your own views of politics and what makes America great — or even America.

If we can't agree on what being “American” really means, it's going to be very hard to find common ground on anything else. Depressingly, that appears to be where we are.