It is a truism of our time how divided we are as a nation. President-elect Joe Biden led his victorious campaign with the promise to unite and heal. But internal divisions and the fear and mistrust that accompany them have been present throughout much of our history. Indeed, we can assume that these fears have structured the very constitution that defines us as a country, and have thus structured our current political conflicts.
For example, the recognized need for stronger national government motivated the Constitutional Convention, but fear of such government helped to create the system of federalism that seeks to divide and share responsibilities between federal and state government. So we were moving toward the creation of a nation, while at the same time creating a system that preserved our separation.
The United States remained a plural, not a singular, until the end of the Civil War almost 80 years later. During the war, Lincoln no longer referred to the country as a collective “union” but as a more united “nation. The language may have changed, but the reality and structure of the separation remained, and it provided the means and organization for our current divisive political struggles.
For this reason, the attorneys general have recently become important actors in national politics. Through their Attorney Generals, conservative states joined together during the Obama years to fight against health, environmental, immigration, electoral and other federal policies and to repeatedly bring the Democratic administration to justice. During the Trump years, progressive states followed the conservative leadership in this process and used their power against the Republican-led federal government. In this way, the various “red” and “blue” Americas acquire substance beyond political rhetoric and coloring on election cards.
Now the Republican-led Texas Attorney General is leading a lawsuit against a group of progressive Attorneys General in another conservative challenge to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Tuesday in this case, whose name could not more clearly illustrate our national division: California v. Texas.
Since we now believe that there are two Americas, we can consider California and Texas as their de facto flagships. So who would be better suited to be the disputants mentioned in this case?
However, these two states have not always occupied these positions in American politics. It is not so long ago that Texas gave us the LBJ and California founded modern conservatism. So while internal mistrust pervades and structures the political history of the US, the same history shows us that another political constant is change.
Our internal divisions continue along familiar lines, but the specific geography of these divisions shifts over time, driven by migration, demographics and other forces. As before, these ever-moving energies will reshape our political landscape, and the parties recognize that this creates hope for one party and fear for another.
In the final weeks of the 2020 election, the Democrats were hopeful that this would finally be the year they would turn the tables on Texas. Of course that didn’t happen, but the silver lining on the Democratic horizon is that the percentage of Texas votes for their presidential candidate has increased. California slowly and sporadically changed from a conservative to a liberal bastion, and the hopes of the Democrats in Texas are likely to continue to overtake the change in further elections.
Efforts by Republican leaders in Texas and elsewhere in 2020 to limit absentee voting and drive-through and ballot box locations built on a longstanding but completely unfounded account of electoral fraud in U.S. elections. In the absence of real data to support these claims, the conclusion remains that efforts are being made to fend off the forces in Texas and elsewhere that have kept a state like California so far from being the proclaimed home of Nixon and Reagan.
But resisting these forces in elections is not the only way in which Republicans have tried to find ways to stay in power. The hasty appointment of Judge A