In the distant future, as Gibbon did, some historian will stick his wrinkled finger on a calendar date and pronounce “and on this date, the United States of America fell.” If by some miracle I were to witness the event, I would not be surprised if that date was already in our past. Historians have the benefit of hindsight, but also of not living in the aquarium they spend their lives researching. Some say Rome fell in 476, as a puppet emperor was deposed and sent into retirement. Did Roman citizens know this was an ending of things? No. To them the real emperor resided in Constantinople. Since they had first drawn breath, all power resided there, in New Rome. Old Rome had been a shadow for generations, and even in Italy, rule had long been pronounced from Ravenna, itself far less important than the economically powerful East.
Justinian the Great thought himself the Emperor of the Romans and ruled over the Mediterranean shores as tightly as many of his predecessors, more than half a century after the fall. What changed, then, on that day historians marked? Symbols changed; I suppose. We see discontinuity, but there was none. We see change, but such change was gradual, the product of generations.
The point is essentially arbitrary. A finger found its way to a date on a calendar, one small event in a sequence of centuries, and thus was it pronounced: Rome has fallen.
Looking back on American history, where lies that point for us? Like the later days of classical Rome, we are two nations, now. Unlike Rome, there is no easy split. We are not East and West, nor are we North or South. Even Urban and Rural does note quite get to the root of the thing, though there at least we finally see some correlation.
Nor is this split limited to America. The entirety of the Western World suffers from it. But here in America we can see its purest form. We try to put labels on it: Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative. But these too fail to grasp the essence of the divide. These aren’t merely two political parties who disagree on some things. Now, they are people who have entirely different viewpoints about the world, who are brought up in different ways, who live and breathe diametrically opposed cultural values.
In America, there are two countries. We might say with some accuracy that they evolved from a single one. But whatever the origins, they are two peoples now. With the rapid influx of unassimilated immigration, we have the seeds of more countries being sown. More than two, someday. De facto, America is broken up into little islands of Red and Blue, and in some cases, completely foreign exclaves.
Each country has its own culture, its own social mores, religious preferences, traditions, and ways of life. For now, a theoretically common law and government seems to unite them on paper, but the days of Trump and Biden show us that each country views rule by the other side as illegitimate. Both sides will claim fraud if the other wins, and it is entirely possible they are correct to do so.
Moldbug once claimed that American Leftists want to count ‘every vote’ because they know that, in the end, they do somewhat outnumber American Rightists in a raw sense. They think it fair that this minor majority means they are empowered to do whatever they wish to their enemies. And American Rightists want rules, procedures, and formalized structure to the vote, because they know that, in the end, their people possess more raw power. The guns are on their side. The countryside is theirs, along with most of the raw productivity. A drug-addled ghetto resident may not be bothered with voting if it requires even a modicum of effort on his part. In this way, both countries cheat. Both countries think their own brand of power should grant them supremacy.
Therefore, Leftists wish to abolish the electoral college, and resist voter ID rules. Their goal is to get as many people to the polls as possible. It doesn’t matter if the voter is a pot-addled loser who hasn’t held a job in 20 years, or an oldster out of his gourd with dementia, or a convicted felon. The more, the merrier. It is the opposite with the Right. Keep the electoral college, institute small barriers to the vote like voter ID. Each small barrier to the vote is some lazy slob who decides it’s not worth the effort to put down the crack pipe for an hour and head to the polls. Deep down, most Rightists would say that their votes ought to count a little more than someone like that.
At a more fundamental level, it is a political power game between two peoples forced to live side-by-side. Each day grows increasingly hostile. Rule by the other is seen as tyranny – and perhaps rightly so. Were we geographically separated, I suspect America would have already given up the fiction of unity. But look around you. Even in a rural area, you will find your share of Leftists. Even in the urban core, there will be closet Trump voters. Suburbs, of course, remain a battleground. Rightists often say the cities cannot survive without the countryside, and that is true after a fashion. But how well does the countryside do without the cities?
This crosses even formal country boundaries. China is an enemy of America – something even most Leftists understand at some level. Yet China and America are interconnected economically to an extremely high degree. It is even stronger still between the Two Americas.
Even so, rule by the other grows increasingly intolerable. In older days, we would probably have already seen Civil War begin. Yet, as prosperity still reigns, few people are truly motivated to risk everything they have to start that conflict. Oh, there is always talk of this. Antifas will cry out that the Revolution has begun, and the Boog Boys will talk about sheepdogs. Social media will fill with memes about helicopters and Communists.
Nobody truly crosses the line, though. Treatment of January 6th participants shows that great punishment will come down on anyone who even creeps up on the line. Now, you might say that Antifas do not receive the same treatment – and that is true, after a fashion. The punishment of the Rightist who creeps up on the line is blacklisting. It is cancellation. It is judicial tyranny. These punishments rarely (but sometimes) catch Antifas. In other words, the system punishes them. For Antifas, the punishment is rather more literal and personal. Each riot incurs upon them a slight chance that a policeman will maul them, or that a Kyle Rittenhouse will come, and they will die. This is much rarer the other way around. Typical punishment differs between the countries.
Regardless, the Revolutionaries do not actually revolt. And the Boog Boys launch no Boogs. Yet always the unspoken threat of both lingers over the political horizon. Both know that, should that day come, the iPhones and vente lattes will dry up. Cheap ammo and plentiful bacon will be gone. And all know that the first movers – the ones who do not just creep upon the line but cross it blatantly – will pay a great price for doing so.
So, the Two Americas engage in a Cold War with its occasional, but isolated, hot spots. Mutually assured destruction has been achieved without nuclear weapons. If the cities go, so does the country. But as the country goes, so does the city. As Leftists go, so do the Rightists. This probably all hovers somewhere in the mind of the average American. Perhaps it is not even fully realized, consciously. Maybe it manifests as a vague unease – a feeling of going too far, a fear of stepping over the line. Each time someone approaches the line, they draw back.
What will their family think? What will friends on social media say? Will they be able to get jobs, buy food, and enjoy the latest Apple devices? No… no they cannot step over the line.
But the Saxon still hates. The Communist still seethes with anger every time he sees an F-150 with a Salt Life sticker on the back. Neighbors nonetheless pretend not to know the affiliations of others. The Democrat lives in peace with his Republican neighbor – but only so long as the other pretends they are living in the same America.
Once, perhaps this is how America remained one country despite ideological divisions, in older days. Peace was maintained so long as the fiction remained that your neighbor was little different, ideologically, from you. With the rise of the Internet and social media, all such polite fictions have been stripped away. You know. They know. Everybody knows. Yet, some remnant of the old peace remains in the real world.
But beyond the router, there is no peace.
Look out of your window and see urban gentrification, perhaps. Or peaceful suburbia. Perhaps you see farm fields, forests, or the unbroken concrete towers of the projects – those never particularly peaceful, but no worse, perhaps, than you recall in your youth. America outwardly looks like America.
On the Internet, however, it is every cyberpunk dystopian hellhole ever conceived. And worse, perhaps. The things that lie beneath on Twitter should scare anybody.
A video was posted the other day of two thieves conducting an armed robbery. One of the victims pulled out a handgun and shot one of the thieves. You could tell the affiliation of every commenter. Their cultural and moral values were so diametrically opposed that nothing could unite them. To the Leftist, this was a great tragedy, and the victim was evil for killing some presumably poor person for the crime of attempting to feed themselves and resist systemic oppression. To the Rightist, the armed robber had forfeited his life the moment he drew that weapon and attempted to steal someone else’s possessions. The shooter was to be commended for eliminating such a clearly deficient specimen.
In a way, it does not even matter which one was right, though I suspect my readers would have a strong opinion. What matters is the diametrically opposed viewpoints, the hatred and vitriol thrown back and forth between people who are theoretically of the same nation, the same cultural stew. Of course, they are not of the same milieu, not truly. We know that now. Was it always this way, and the Internet just exposed it? I do not know. Maybe.
Regardless, there is no peace beyond the wifi.
Yet the fragile peace – with its occasional flare-ups – that holds in the real world cannot hold forever. What will happen if that dam ever bursts? If all the animus, hatred, and vitriol of social media crosses into reality?
Driving down the street, look at the signs. MAGA signs never taken down. Declarations that this house or that house believes in the core tenets of Progressive Faith. Screaming matches over mask and vaccination policies. The peace in the real world stands on the edge of a knife. Everyone fears to cross the line, to admit openly what they know privately: these are not my countrymen. These are not my people. I do not like them, and they never liked me. They do not share my values, and I do not share theirs. We have nothing in common.
What happens when all pretenses are stripped away?
Someday, the historians will look back on our history, and they will find a moment – perhaps one as seemingly-insignificant as the deposition of a minor puppet ruler in Italy was to the story of Rome – and they will say “this is the day America was cleaved in two.”
Perhaps those same historians will say of the Cold War that both the USSR and the USA fell, the former due to economics and the latter due to cultural infighting. Perhaps like the ancient fall of Sassanid Persia and the diminishing of Byzantium. Or perhaps it will be seen as something entirely different. We live in the aquarium they will someday comment on. None of us will live to know.
Regardless, there is no singular America, not anymore. Only the outward appearance still exists – and only so long as the waning pretenses of peace last in the real world. Not forever, I imagine. Perhaps not even very long.