I’m fine living in a heavily Democratic area — and you should be, too. And I reject the implication that I live in a place where I will never hear a thought I disagree with.
Being “in a bubble” is generally considered a negative in our culture, while diversity is a positive. The Times’s feature leans into those connotations: If you live in a largely Democratic or Republican neighborhood, it highlights neighborhoods nearby with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, where you will be less “politically isolated.” A lot of discourse in the United States has a similar tone, suggesting that people wary of those of the opposite political party are participating in a “prejudice” akin to religious or racial discrimination.
I didn’t move here in 2018 because I was explicitly looking to live near others who voted for Hillary Clinton. I was moving from Washington, D.C., and I wanted to keep some parts of my old life, so my wife and I sought out a home within walking distance of restaurants and coffee shops. And here’s the thing: Our current political polarization is about urbanization and attitudes about diversity and cosmopolitanism as much as issues such as tax policy. A person who says they want to be able to walk to bars and coffee shops is essentially saying that they want to live near a lot of people who voted for Clinton.
But, of course, I knew I was moving into a heavily Democratic area. I grew up in Louisville; I’m familiar with the politics of various neighborhoods.
Still, when we settled on this neighborhood, I was conflicted. On the one hand, I worry that one contributing factor to the corrosive polarization in the United States is how the two sides increasingly don’t interact, even casually. I didn’t want to contribute to that. In fact, in moving from D.C. (which Clinton won by 87 percentage points) to Louisville (Clinton by 14), I hoped I’d have a few neighbors who liked Donald Trump to give me more insight into GOP voters that would improve my political writing.
On the other hand, I was becoming increasingly alarmed and frustrated at Trump’s conduct as president. I wasn’t sure that I actually wanted my nonwork hours to include people who would rave about the then-president.
But 2020 brought me to a different place, and I now embrace being in a heavily Democratic area. My neighbors have taken covid-19 super-seriously, just as my wife and I have, so we have a group of people we can hang out with safely and discuss the challenges of the pandemic without pointless debates about masks or social distancing. The killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — and the resulting local and national conversation about race and policing — were particularly stressful for me as a Black person, so I am relieved I don’t have neighbors who blamed Floyd and Taylor for their deaths or criticized the protests.
A lot of the discourse casting polarization and partisanship as bad assumes that the two sides both want a free and prosperous democracy, but just disagree on how best to get there. But that’s not what American politics is about today.
If Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) or Mitt Romney (R-Utah) retired from Congress and moved to my neighborhood, I would welcome them because they generally share my small d-democratic values. I am not against living near Republicans; I just don’t want to spend a ton of time with people trapped in Trumpian thinking, which right now is a lot of Republicans. I would have been more conflicted living in a heavily Democratic area a decade or two ago, when the parties weren’t so firmly divided into a reality-based party and a reality-skeptical party.
But that doesn’t mean I am opposed to living around people with different views than my own. Our two-party system leads to the idea that there are two and only two sides — Democratic or Republican — to most issues. But that’s not how life really is. I disagree with my neighbors on a wide range of things. We just aren’t debating whether you should wear a mask, or whether Joe Biden won the 2020 election.
My neighborhood is also overwhelmingly upper-income, White and college-educated. I do worry about that dynamic blinding me to some realities, such as the fact that not everyone can work from home or go on a long vacation every year. I need to guard against that kind of bubble thinking. But while my personal blue bubble isn’t that diverse, many heavily Democratic areas include people of a wide range of ethnicities, educational backgrounds, vocations and religions.
Democratic-leaning people moving to areas or states with lots of other Democrats isn’t a rejection of diversity or free thinking. It’s a way to ensure that they can live out the values that they assumed we all had until millions of Americans embraced Trump.