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Divided We Fall: America’s Unnoticed Culture Clash

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The explosive electoral phenomenon of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is, as usual, the object of fascination by those not a part of it. It’s a shock-horror fascination, to be sure, but something to behold nonetheless. As usual, many pundits have allowed their awe to cloud their capacity for rational judgment, drawing inaccurate conclusions about the causes and implications of Santorum’s popularity.

Finding out exactly why the former senator (forcibly retired with a nearly twenty point margin by his constituency ) is such a draw for so many, one must understand his fans. A look at the electoral map of any recent primary, from Michigan’s to Mississippi’s, reveals that Santorum’s base of support lies in sparsely populated areas. So far, he has lost most of the urban and suburban precincts, and this trend seems unlikely to change.

Thus we arrive at the real question of Santorum’s success, what is the common sociological thread running through the rural areas that works so well for him? An objective look at the residents of these areas spotlights their poverty and lack of formal education. Perversely, Santorum routinely sneers at the value of education; and just one day before the Illinois primary, announced that he did not care about America’s unemployment rate. Despite these stunningly arrogant, if not ignorant, statements, legions of supporters continue to crawl out of the woodwork to lend their support. Don’t they understand that he quite literally does not have their best interests at heart?

It is this contradiction that drives the pundits into flights of hyperbole and smugness. The careful observer, however, will note the all-important outlook from which his or her answer can be found. In pro-Santorum areas, fundamentalist Protestantism, and to some length Catholicism, reign predominant. Santorum has based his entire run around his hardline interpretations of Catholicism. His rhetoric revolves around the themes of banning pornography, but also ventures into the boldness of bridging the separation of church and state. In short, he strategically raises highly emotional issues for voters who rarely hear these, and they are now repaying him in full.

Of course, this is political insanity in its textbook form. Polls have shown, however, that Santorum voters simply do not care. They support him strongly, despite admitting he is not as likely as his leading opponent to defeat the incumbent. Electability is not too important to them. Why? Because they do not identify with the contemporary mainstream of American society. As most live in rural communities, they have the unique ability to be isolated from the melting pots of the suburbs and salad bowls of the cities. In desolate locales, the post-1960s cultural shift that has washed over urban and suburban America has not been accepted.

Indeed, many out in the country are still beholden to a pre-digital, pre-Internet mindset. As they watch the rest of society change, these folks become increasingly reactionary. This happens when a nation’s culture evolves or devolves; some groups are always left so far back in the dust that they are almost forgotten about. In the ever curious case of modern America, Santorum’s candidacy serves as their bullhorn. I do not disagree with many traditionalist criticisms of our current cultural climate, especially insofar as proper manners and acceptable dress codes are concerned. The problem with many extreme traditionalists is that they see no distinction between the personal and the professional. This explains their falling for Santorum’s lines regarding the enshrinement of fundamentalist Christianity in public policy measures; in fact, in their communities such a thing is commonplace. The isolation they endure blocks off alternative opinions and diverse ideas. This also accounts for why the rest of America is so befuddled by their support for Santorum.

The United States is a nation divided between two distinct macro-cultures. The first can be seen 24/7 on most television channels, heard while walking through the downtown of any city of any size, and experienced in an afternoon at the art museum. The second is not readily apparent, but can nonetheless be found in the aisles of Walmart, the pews of most non-mainline churches, and at events ranging from monster truck rallies to tent revivals. Undoubtedly the best way to monitor the culture clash, however, is by marking up a state’s map to divide the populous counties from those less so. This division will accurately depict the divide between the areas that Santorum won and those claimed by his competitors.

Well, there it is. Santorum’s favorability with his masses should not be analyzed on the basis of current American cultural norms. He and his devotees are operating on a continuum of their own; one which resembles the turn of the twentieth century far more than it does the twenty-first. Only the passing of time can be expected to close a gap this wide.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Glenn Contrarian

    That’s the Joseph that most of us on BC have come to know and respect! I don’t agree with everything you wrote, but I agree with quite a bit of it. Great article, Joseph!

  • jamminsue

    I imagine that along with Josseph and Dave, that most Republicans are in shock at what they are being offered this election. My condolences.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    “If the electorate demands stupid policies, they’re going to get stupid candidates”. And it doesn’t help when they’re told what to think by the single biggest kingmaker of the Right: “Fair and Balanced” Fox News.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/joseph-cotto/ Joseph Cotto

    Glenn,

    Glad to see that you enjoyed the article. Same me as always, though lately I have been at work on several series. The next one has to do with economics and should be of great interest to those on the left and right alike.

    jamminsue,

    Sometimes the craziness reaches such a level that all you can do is sit back and write about it on an almost hypothetical basis. Sad stuff indeed.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Y’all –

    Welcome to the Mississippi Delta. This is why I’ll never live there again.

    I suspect the Wal-Mart is located in Cleveland, Mississippi, about 15 miles from where I grew up. Notice the ultra-American who proudly wears the shirt that says Vicksburg Toyota. But I can promise you he’s not in Vicksburg, because Vicksburg isn’t flat. He’s somewhere in the Delta.

  • jamminsue

    Joseph, I can’t wait!

  • Aech Conservative

    “I imagine that along with Josseph and Dave, that most Republicans are in shock at what they are being offered this election. My condolences.”

    Anyone with an ounce of sense has been shocked by what both major political parties have been offering for a very long time.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Hm.

    Out of the seven GOP candidates, what is it, FIVE who claimed that they were in it because “God wanted them to run”?

    Archie, the last reasonable AND intelligent GOP candidate for president was Bush Sr. The Dems have had a Rhodes scholar, a REAL decorated combat vet, and a Harvard grad who chose to work with the poor rather than to take a multi-million dollar job at K Street. We have some goofballs, too, and every single candidate for president makes gaffes…but it’s a matter of degree.

    Do you realize, Arch, that when it comes to low taxes, the most conservative president since Herbert Hoover is President Obama? Under him, you have the lowest personal tax burden in sixty years and the lowest effective corporate tax burden since Nixon?

    Ah, but I forget – he’s not a white guy whose birth was duly videotaped and doesn’t go around preaching religion every third sentence, so he MUST be a Kenyan Muslim who’s out to destroy America, right?

  • Arch Conservative

    You’re right Glenn.

    Every bad thing that has ever happened to this nation in the past 50 years was the fault of the Republicans while every good thing that has ever happened during that time was due the benevolent, altruistic Democrats.

    You win.

    Happy now?

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Every bad thing that has ever happened to this nation in the past 50 years was the fault of the Republicans while every good thing that has ever happened during that time was due the benevolent, altruistic Democrats.

    Correct in all particulars. You get an A+!

    For our next lesson, will we bring Archie to the understanding that not all female politicians are cunts.

  • http://www.RosesSpanishBoots.com Christopher Rose

    I still don’t understand why the word cunt is pejorative…

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    It isn’t in all circumstances, Chris, but it is when Archie uses it!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Arch –

    Every bad thing that has ever happened to this nation in the past 50 years was the fault of the Republicans while every good thing that has ever happened during that time was due the benevolent, altruistic Democrats.

    Of course all the times that I’ve said Bush Sr. was a courageous president, all the times I’ve said Reagan was one of our five greatest presidents, the times I’ve placed the blame for us losing our manufacturing base on Clinton for doing what the conservatives wanted him to do when it came to free trade agreements…all these are nothing?

    Tell me, Arch – have you even been HALF so complimentary of Dem presidents as I have of Republican presidents? Have you? No? Then take your misplaced sarcasm and apply it to yourself.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And Arch –

    I replied to your comment under this article.