Take online dating: ‘‘People don’t say anything about politics,’’ he said, because ‘‘you’re risking turning off a whole bunch of people.’’ Or consider cross-party marriages. Analyzing polling data, Iyengar found that whereas in 1960 about 5 percent of Americans would be upset if their child married someone from the other party, in 2010 that rose to nearly 40 percent.
"Fifty years ago when people were asked that question they just laughed ...'Why would I care about the party politics of my future son-in-law?’
‘‘But today,’’ he said, ‘‘they care.’’
This plays out every day in communities big and small across America, in myriad ways that remind us that division doesn’t end when the polls close on Election Day.
In Montana, Helena resident John Driscoll was so taken aback by a truck driver’s reaction to his Obama bumper sticker that he wrote a letter about it to a local newspaper. Driscoll had pulled over with a flat tire, and the truck driver stopped to assist but then admitted: ‘‘'If I'd known you were Obama people I wouldn’t have stopped.'’’ Later, at a tire repair shop, another man stared at the sticker — and then at Driscoll — and sniffed, ‘‘'You can’t be serious.'’’
‘‘It’s those kinds of things that tell you something, I guess,’’ Driscoll, a former Democratic legislator in Montana, said in an interview. ‘‘People are generally very respectful of each other and I think they still are, but not so much that I didn’t want to write that letter.’’
In his book, ‘‘The Big Sort,’’ author Bill Bishop reveals how and why Americans have segregated themselves geographically, economically, religiously, socially and, yes, politically into like-minded communities. In one example, he writes about a Texas Republican who was ostracized from an Internet listserv in a liberal Austin neighborhood after he recommended a candidate for the board of the local community college.
‘‘Within the day, the newsgroup reacted in a way that wasn’t as much ideological as biological,’’ wrote Bishop. This man ‘‘wasn’t just someone to be argued against. For the protection of the group, he needed to be isolated, sealed off, and expelled.’’
‘‘Politics,’’ said Bishop, ‘‘has become more about belonging to a tribe than it is about policy. And people will do almost anything to remain in their tribe.’’
After all, he added: ‘‘How do you compromise on your identity?’’
Pennsylvania librarian Roz Warren explored that very idea in a column she wrote this election year for a women’s website, revisiting the moment she discovered that her now daughter-in-law was a Republican. The lifelong Democrat found herself not only questioning how she'd raised her son — ‘‘loving a Republican was the one thing our son could have done to profoundly shock both his parents,’’ Warren wrote — but re-examining her own attachment to political identity and the perhaps skewed importance it had in her life.
Of course, Warren said in an interview, what matters far more than her daughter-in-law’s political preference is her heart — and her love for Warren’s son.
Besides, her son has now informed her, both he and his wife consider themselves independents.
‘‘I feel very optimistic about the fact that the next generation perceives itself as independents ... the focus being on, ‘Let’s you and I talk about issues that matter to us and not identify ourselves as Democrats and Republicans’ ... with all the baggage that that entails,’’ she said. ‘‘Perhaps there is some hope.’’
Just outside of the town of Appomattox, past the rolling hills where American once fought American, is the monument that gives this community its place in history. National Park Service Ranger Ernie Price’s office window looks out over the house where Lee and Grant arrived at the terms of surrender.
Price understands clearly the relevance between what divided Americans then and now: The many questions over government’s role in our lives, and ongoing disputes over racial inequality and freedom and individual rights over the greater good of the nation.
He also sees lessons that today’s leaders might take from what happened at Appomattox in 1865, in the cordiality exhibited by the two generals, and the compromises they were able to reach. In the respect bestowed by one-time enemies when each army saluted the other as the rebel troops laid down their arms before their Union adversaries.
‘‘Just days before these guys were shooting at each other,’’ he noted.
The metaphor can hardly be missed.
Within hours of this election, Romney and Obama and Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington were talking about unity and compromise, about promising to do their part to find bipartisan solutions to the many problems facing the nation. But only time will tell whether our long-standing gridlock ends with some sort of deal and a collective salute.Continued...