Guest Editorials, Opinion

Americans are moving to other states as they sort by ideology

The “Harry Potter” books famously feature a sorting hat, a magical way of determining in which house Hogwarts students truly belong: Gryffindor? Slytherin?  

Last week, The Associated Press reported that Americans have no need for such sorcery to find the like-minded: Republicans and Democrats are separating physically at such a furious pace, the news agency reported, the ideological divide between the states is now starker than at any point in living memory. 

The most striking evidence? A single party controls the legislature in all but two states. And only 10 states are led by governors of parties that differ from the one that controls the legislature. 

Some of that is a consequence of pernicious gerrymandering, of course, but there is so little common ground these days that Americans increasingly are picking up and moving to where they feel at one with the dominant cultural norms and free to express themselves. 

If you want to put out a gay pride flag, you might think twice about living in one of the seven states — Indiana, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina — where the Republican attorneys general issued a threatening collective letter to the retailer Target last week over its display of LGBTQ-friendly merchandise. 

Conservatives, on the other hand, also told the AP that they can be made to feel uncomfortable, in their case if they display a pro-police flag in liberal communities or even the Stars and Stripes. That’s a sad state of affairs. Americans should have the right to indicate their support of law enforcement or express their patriotism with displays on their own property. 

In some ways, of course, the so-called “big sort” is a harmless clustering of the like-minded: Certain college towns long have attracted progressives just as other communities, offering lots of space and open air, have appealed more to conservatives. And we’d also note that these divides are not always marked by a state line; most small communities in downstate Illinois, for example, have more in common with rural Missouri than the towns in the Land of Lincoln’s northern reaches. 

But the busy moving vans still represent a worrying trend. Homogenized states mean less incentive for politicians to work together and less incentive for Americans to see the other side of issues. They represent the diminishment of core American values that enhance the nation’s unity. 

And on the most personal level, it means less chance to learn something from, and teach something to, a decent person with different views who just happens to live next door. 

This editorial first appeared in the Chicago Tribune. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.