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Here’s the ultimate truth about Marjorie Taylor Greene’s ‘national divorce’ myth

Far too many Americans accept the premise that we are a country divided between red states and blue states.

One hundred and sixty-three years after the South tried to secede from the Union, starting a war that killed more Americans than all other U.S. wars combined, it is troubling to hear Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene propose a “national divorce” of red states from blue states. In the wake of Jan. 6, we know that talk of insurrection is more than mere rhetoric for a minority of Americans who’ve been radicalized by the lies of right-wing extremism. But Greene’s call for secession depends on a lie that’s far more widespread than the propaganda of insurrectionists. From leaders who bemoan that we’re “more divided than ever” to political operatives who insist that Democrats simply can’t win in the deep South or the Midwest, far too many Americans accept the premise that we are a country divided between red states and blue states. 

This dichotomy is a myth. We are not a nation divided by political ideology. We are, instead, a people who have been pitted against one another by politicians who depend on the poorest among us not showing up to the polls.

We are not a nation divided by political ideology.

Even with record turnout in the 2020 presidential election80 million eligible voters did not vote, more than those who backed former President Donald Trump, and only slightly less than those who turned out for President Biden. Lower-income voters were three times more likely to sit out the election than higher-income voters.

Maps that show “red” counties and “blue” counties are representations of election results that have important implications for our government’s capacity to pass legislation that would benefit the American people. But we know from survey data and experience that those maps do not represent most Americans. They are a myth in the truest sense — a story told to us in order to reinforce the values of the storytellers. 

The political strategy we are seeing from Greene to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' war on "wokeness" is not simply an effort to imitate Donald Trump. It is the Southern strategy, whose origins trace back to the post-Civil War South. From 1865 until the 1890s, trans-racial fusion movements were able to exercise political power in parts of the South. Scared, the white establishment fought back. The tactic of “positive polarization” was identified by Richard Nixon’s campaign strategists and has been used since 1980 by those who wanted to roll back voting rights, labor rights and living wages, while increasing corporate power. These are the values the myth of red states versus blue states reinforces. The story of our division is told to persuade us that things could not be otherwise. 

Monied interests in the United States have long understood that their power depends on maintaining division in public life.

For the past five years, the Poor People’s Campaign — which both of us have been part of — connected with poor and low-wage people in every U.S. state, listening to the issues that matter most to them. Whether we have been among white millennials who are unhoused in Aberdeen, Black folks struggling to survive in Alabama, Native Americans fighting for their lands in Arizona, or Latinos facing evictions in Southern California, poor and low-wage people in this country are clear about the burdens they face. The cost of housing, transportation, education and health care have soared while wages have stagnated for most Americans. This is as true in counties that elect Democrats as it is in those represented by Republicans. In a national audit we published in 2018, we found that there wasn’t a single county in the country where someone working full time at minimum wage could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment. Poor and low-wage people are not divided on this basic fact: It’s gotten harder to get by for most folks in America. 

The vast majority of Americans not only agree on the problem, but also on some basic solutions. In survey after survey, most Americans support raising the minimum wage and making sure everyone has access to health care, a safe place to live and quality public education. In the 2022 midterms, ballot measures to raise the minimum wage passed not just in the District of Columbia, where a majority of voters elected Democrats, but in Nebraska, where most voters elected Republicans. 

So if we are not as divided as the “red state/blue state” myth would have us believe, how do we explain the extreme polarization in American politics? The short answer is that monied interests in the United States have long understood that their power depends on maintaining division in public life. This is at the root of the long story of race in America, as well as the overlapping anti-immigrant narratives, culture wars and voter suppression tactics. When the Poor People's Campaign surveyed poor and low-income eligible voters to ask why they often do not participate in elections, the No. 1 answer was that they do not hear politicians campaigning on issues that would benefit them. Almost every other reason is some barrier of timing, location or documentation that makes casting their vote one more thing they don’t have time to do. 

Even still, we have watched poor and low-income people invest thousands of hours to organize themselves and their neighbors, increasing turnout in the 2020 and 2022 elections in key areas that made a difference in terms of federal policy. Though the impact was only temporary, the legislation that Congress passed and President Biden signed in 2021 did more to reduce poverty in America than anything we’ve witnessed in over 50 years. We did not do that because we were a nation “more divided than ever” during the worst pandemic in a century. We did it because poor and low-income people stood together with people of conscience and produced an electoral majority that passed some of the things most Americans agree would be best for all of us. This recent history makes clear that we don’t need a divorce; we need, instead, to fire the home-wreckers who aren’t representing our interests and reconstruct an America that works for all of us.