One nation, divisible by what scares us most

It’s a dangerous world. The threats are insidious, lurking undetected until it’s too late. Left on your own, you won’t survive. The government’s job is to protect you.

Many Americans hold some version of this view. But they strongly differ on which threats they fear.

Red America worries about deliberate human action. Blue America dreads unintended, usually inanimate, threats. Red America focuses mostly on the body politic. Blue America emphasizes the body. In the pre-Trump era, that meant conservatives talked about crime, foreign enemies, and moral decay while liberals emphasized environmental poisons, illness, unwanted pregnancies, and material deprivation. As we’ll see, Donald Trump added a twist of his own (and jettisoned the old conservative moral concerns). But the basic people-vs.-things division remains.

Consider two recent New York Times headlines. One frets that “Trump’s F.D.A. Pick Could Undo Decades of Drug Safeguards,” appealing to liberal fears of bad medicines. A second declares that “Trump’s Travel Ban, Aimed at Terrorists, Has Blocked Doctors.” Where the administration sees a human threat, the Times finds a benefit that addresses biological vulnerability.

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