I don't know when it started, but I suspect it was towards the end of Nixon. We started moving apart as a country.
It started with simple disagreements. Then yelling matches. It eventually deteriorated into a mass migration away from each other. We sorted ourselves based on political affiliation.
According to the official data*, between 4 and 5% of us move each year from one county to another. There are plenty of reasons for this. But one of the reasons that's grown in prominence since Carter and his peanut gallery was political affiliation and the associated belief system. Conservatives, when they chose where to live, chose more conservative leaning areas. Liberals did the same with liberal neighborhoods. And the net result is that, over the years, we haven't really spoken to each other much. The number of "landslide counties" skyrocketed, and the number of voter-mixed counties plummeted.*
In 1976, only about a quarter of America's voters lived in a county a presidential candidate won by a landslide margin. By 2004, it was nearly half.*
The hill I live on in San Francisco, for example, is very blue. You'd be hard pressed to find a single person who voted McCain in 2008. In fact, my whole city is very blue. During Bush, there was nary a functioning car or truck bumper with a sticker expressing support for, or agreement with, the man or his policies. You could feel free to bash Bushy in public and know that anyone within earshot would agree with you. I even heard some people casually talking about the desire for an assassination.
Now, I won't lie. There's some comfort in that for us here. But what was missing was the kind of healthy debate that allowed us to see the other point of view. Clearly somebody supported Bush for awhile and for a reason. A good half of us voted for him. Twice. So where are those other half? Not here, I'll tell you that much. And we are the poorer for it, I think.
Cuz, we really need to talk.
Alas, I think we've been stewing in our own juices a bit - all of us. Now we just don't get each other AT ALL. We've drifted apart to such a degree that it could easily devolve into a violent confrontation - as it has over the past year with the health care debates. You see campaigns now and they're not about persuading people that may not agree with you. No, they're about rallying people. Politics is no longer about policy, it's about numbers.
Now I sort of hear you saying, "Well, we have the Internet and the news media if we want to listen to each other."
Yeah, I supposed I can listen to Fox "News" and get your point of view and you can listen to NPR to get mine. Or can we? Does either of those places really represent our point of view? Or is it a gross exaggeration of our point of view designed to get us nodding and agreeing and watching/listening more? Truth is, we really only watch or listen to the things that we are going to agree with. The rest of it, we're inclined to dismiss out of hand.
So how or when are we going to ever see eye to eye? Are you even as interested in that as I am? Are you out there, reading? Hello? Hello?
* Data based on demographic data cited in the book, "The Big Sort," by journalist Bill Bishop.
Side note: look up the cultural make-up of your neighborhood here from the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.