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A divided America in a divided household: One scholar’s analysis of what it means to cross the aisle


WASHINGTON - From a fundamentalist Christian family in rural Ohio to cultivating a progressive ideology by attending Brown University, Darrell West gave a book talk on his latest work, analyzing both his personal and professional experiences in the hostile stand-off between liberals and conservatives as discussed in his book “Divided Politics, Divided Nation: Hyperconflict in the Trump Era.”

On the first warm and sunny Saturday this spring, West began by expressing gratitude to an audience on March 30, at Politics and Prose on Connecticut Avenue for filling the bookstore to the point of people standing in the aisles, eagerly listening.

The book, as West describes it, is a family memoir about the political polarization in the United States being acquainted with both conservative and rural “tribes.”

“My immediate family is a microcosm of divided America because my two sisters are conservatives who support Trump and my brother is a liberal who doesn’t like Trump so as you can imagine, family reunions are very interesting,” West said.

Outlining how the book covers Presidents from Reaganomics all the way to the present Trump Era, West expressed that the political pendulum in the United States seems to be swinging wider and wider with each presidency. West then boiled down the root causes of these polarizations to economic opportunity, geographic disparities, lack of diversified news, and the “us versus them” mentality.

Eric Schwartz, an attendee and activist, asked West’s thoughts on the ‘greening of the economy,’ an idea of bringing back lost jobs from industrial losses towards jobs in solar, wind, or electric vehicle sectors.

“It certainly is a possibility and I have lived through the loss of agriculture, growing up on a dairy farm and then the loss of manufacturing jobs,” West said as many of his high school classmates experienced turbulent economic lives as factories closed or warehouses moved to other parts of the country.

West also explained how there is current debate and contention in his own hometown due to the possibility of bringing these options.

“There is a new proposal to set up solar panels on farm land and as you can imagine that is contentious within the community in the sense that some people say ‘hey that’s a new type of economic opportunity and development and new way to generate an income,’ and there are other people that think ‘look this is farmland, i want to see wheat and corn growing there and not a bunch of solar panels,’ so there’s contentiousness associated with that but you know, there’s that idea and a bunch of other ideas too,” West said.

The question according to West then turns to addressing the manufacturing and industrial loss. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, manufacturing nominal value accounted for a little over 11 percent of GDP.

“We might be able to boost that to 13 or 14 percent, but it’s never going to get back to 20 or 25 percent, so we do need to think about alternative economic development strategies and that could mean turning to green industries,” West said.

“How do you get that core of people in the Midwest to accept that this is the way they’re going to have to move, and this means funding education, it means new kinds of education, and at the highest level, it means that you have to agree on some of the climate change issues?,” asked Margaret Yaukey, an adjunct arts education professor at Hagerstown Community College attending the event.

West responded by saying the American people have always prided themselves on ‘American ingenuity’ and the fundamentals of ‘American innovation’.

“We are a nation of problem solvers, just look at our history because 100 years ago, we faced an equally dramatic structural change when the economy moved from an agrarian economy to an industrial one and it was equally tumultuous in the sense of a lot of chaos and a lot of difficulty like workers.”

West went on to say that the structural changes today are easily as traumatic will take decades to work through.

“But we have to start now because the longer we wait, the bigger the problem becomes and the harder it is to solve,” West said. “But we need to start thinking of how to re-imagine our social contract, what types of new policy, what types of new economic development strategies, etcetera.”

“I go back long before [West] does. I was born shortly after World War II, when America was great,” Dr. Caroline Poplin, attendee of the book talk, said.

Dr. Poplin, a graduate Yale Law School and University of Rochester School of Medicine, received both her law and medical degree, completing a residency in internal medicine at Georgetown University Hospital.

“It was just a different time because you could have a factory job that would support a wife at home, two kids, a house, a car, and there would be security… And what I think that has changed in the enormous power of business. All of those places in the Midwest that are suffering now, the same thing happened: the big factory moved out,” Poplin said.

Originally published for an Advanced Reporting blogsite.

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