Each of them has sat behind the Resolute Desk within the Oval Office, signed payments into regulation, appointed judges, bartered with international leaders and ordered the armed forces into fight. They each know what it’s wish to be essentially the most highly effective individual on the planet.
Yet the overall election matchup that appears doubtless after this week’s New Hampshire primary represents greater than the first-in-a-century contest between two males who’ve each lived within the White House. It represents the conflict of two presidents of profoundly totally different nations, the president of Blue America versus the president of Red America.
The looming showdown between President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump, assuming Nikki Haley can’t pull off a hail-mary surprise, goes past the binary liberal-conservative cut up of two political events acquainted to generations of Americans. It is not less than partly about ideology, sure, but additionally essentially about race and faith and tradition and economics and democracy and retribution and most of all, maybe, about identification.
It is about two vastly disparate visions of America led by two presidents who, aside from their age and the latest entry on their résumés, may hardly be extra dissimilar. Mr. Biden leads an America that, as he sees it, embraces variety, democratic establishments and conventional norms, that considers authorities at its greatest to be a power for good in society. Mr. Trump leads an America the place, in his view, the system has been corrupted by darkish conspiracies and the undeserving are favored over hard-working on a regular basis folks.
Deep divisions within the United States aren’t new; certainly, they are often traced again to the Constitutional Convention and the times of John Adams versus Thomas Jefferson. But based on some students, they’ve hardly ever reached the degrees seen at the moment, when Red and Blue Americas are shifting farther and farther aside geographically, philosophically, financially, educationally and informationally.
Americans don’t simply disagree with one another, they stay in numerous realities, every with its personal self-reinforcing Internet-and-media ecosphere. The Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol was both an outrageous rebellion in service of an unconstitutional energy seize by a proto-fascist or a reputable protest that will have gotten out of hand however has been exploited by the opposite facet and turned patriots into hostages.
The two lands have radically totally different legal guidelines on entry to abortion and weapons. The partisan breakdown is so cemented in 44 states that they successfully already sit in a single America or the opposite in relation to the autumn election. That means they may barely see one of many candidates, who will focus primarily on six battleground states that may determine the presidency.
In an more and more tribal society, Americans describe their variations extra personally. Since Mr. Trump’s election in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, the share of Democrats who see Republicans as immoral has grown from 35 p.c to 63 p.c whereas 72 p.c of Republicans say the identical about Democrats, up from 47 p.c. In 1960, about 4 p.c of Americans stated they’d be displeased if their youngster married somebody from the opposite party. By 2020, that had grown to nearly four in 10. Indeed, solely about 4 p.c of all marriages at the moment are between a Republican and a Democrat.
“Today, once we take into consideration America, we make the important error of imagining it as a single nation, a marbled mixture of pink and blue folks,” Michael Podhorzer, a former political director of the AFL-CIO, wrote in an essay last month. “But America has by no means been one nation. We are a federated republic of two nations: Red Nation and Blue Nation. This will not be a metaphor; it’s a geographic and historic actuality.”
The present divide displays essentially the most important political realignment since Republicans captured the South and Democrats the North following the civil rights laws of the Sixties. Mr. Trump has reworked the G.O.P. into the party of the white working class, rooted strongly in rural communities and resentful of globalization, whereas Mr. Biden’s Democrats have more and more turn out to be the party of the extra extremely educated and economically higher off, who’ve thrived within the info age.
“Trump was not the reason for this realignment, because it has been constructing because the early Nineties,” stated Douglas B. Sosnik, who was a White House counselor to President Bill Clinton and research political tendencies. But “his victory in 2016 and his presidency accelerated these tendencies. And this realignment is basically based mostly on the winners and losers within the new Twenty first-century digital economic system, and the most effective predictor of whether or not you’re a winner or loser is your stage of schooling.”
The leaders of those two Americas every wield energy in their very own approach. As the present occupant of the White House, Mr. Biden has all the benefits and drawbacks of incumbency. But Mr. Trump has been performing as an incumbent in a trend too — he by no means conceded his 2020 defeat and nearly all of his supporters, polls present, imagine that he, not Mr. Biden, is the reputable president.
Even with out a formal workplace, Mr. Trump has set the agenda for Republicans in Washington and the state capitals. He inspired the interior coup that took down Speaker Kevin McCarthy final 12 months after he made a spending take care of Mr. Biden. He is advising the present speaker, Mike Johnson, on the best way to deal with the deadlock over border coverage and safety assist for Ukraine.
Many elected Republicans who as soon as stood towards Mr. Trump, with notable exceptions, have rushed to endorse him in latest weeks as his declare to the party’s presidential nomination has grown nearly full. As a consequence, it’s laborious to think about any main coverage deal coming collectively in Washington this 12 months with out Mr. Trump’s approval or not less than his acquiescence.
The present state of affairs has no actual analog in American historical past. Only twice earlier than have two presidents confronted off towards one another. In 1892, former President Grover Cleveland gained a rematch towards President Benjamin Harrison. In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt misplaced a third-party bid to depose his successor and estranged protégé, President William Howard Taft, however paved the way in which for victory by the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson.
Neither of these contests mirrored the form of epochal second that students and political professionals see this 12 months. When historians seek for parallels, they usually level to the interval earlier than the Civil War, when an industrializing North and an agrarian South had been divided over slavery. While secession at the moment is far-fetched, the truth that it nonetheless comes up in dialog amongst Democrats in California and Republicans in Texas once in a while signifies how divorced many Americans really feel from one another.
“Whenever I point out the 1850s, everybody thinks we’re going to have a civil warfare,” stated Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian who was amongst a gaggle of students who met just lately with Mr. Biden. “I’m not saying that. It’s not predictive. But when establishments are weakened or modified or reworked the way in which they’ve, you may get perspective from historical past. I believe folks have but to grasp simply how irregular the state of affairs is.”
Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are each traditionally unpopular presidents. Mr. Biden opens his re-election 12 months with an approval score of simply 39 p.c in Gallup polling, the lowest of any elected president at this level going again to Dwight D. Eisenhower. The two are basically equal in favorability, a barely totally different query, with 41 p.c expressing constructive emotions about Mr. Biden in contrast with 42 p.c about Mr. Trump.
But they characterize totally different electorates. Mr. Biden is viewed favorably by 82 percent of Democrats however solely 4 p.c of Republicans. Mr. Trump is considered favorably by 79 p.c of Republicans however solely 6 p.c of Democrats.
In Mr. Sosnik’s newest evaluation, Mr. Biden begins the overall election with 226 doubtless votes within the Electoral College and Mr. Trump with 235. To get to the 270 wanted for victory, one among them must harvest among the 77 votes up for seize in half a dozen states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Because Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump have each served as president, Americans already know what they consider them. That will make it tougher for both to outline his opponent with the general public the way in which that President George W. Bush outlined John F. Kerry in 2004 and President Barack Obama outlined Mitt Romney in 2012.
But the wild playing cards this 12 months stay distinctive nonetheless — an 81-year-old incumbent who’s already the oldest president in American historical past towards a 77-year-old predecessor who’s going through 91 felony counts in 4 separate legal indictments. No one can say for positive how these dynamics will play out over the subsequent 285 days, which Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are already treating as the overall election presidential marketing campaign.
And whereas voters could have already got some sense of how the winner will function within the White House over the subsequent 4 years, it isn’t in any respect clear how a divided nation will reply to victory by one or the opposite. Rejectionism, disruption, additional schism, even violence all appear potential.
As Mr. Wilentz stated, “Things aren’t regular right here. I believe that’s necessary for folks to grasp.”