But the divergent American views over Meghan and Harry actually helps to explain why our own politics are so divided, and why so many people—before, during, and after the Trump years—have been so unable to agree. You can see strains of the system-vs.-individual divide in the immigration debate: Liberals see families fleeing from situations that are truly unsurvivable, often created by economic and political policies that the United States either abetted or even created. Conservatives see a series of personal choices that can be made, and changed, in the here and now: If you don’t want to be separated from your children at the U.S. border, don’t bring them on a treacherous path to the U.S. border in the first place. The same debate rolls on in education policy—should we devote resources to fixing public schools, or simply give families vouchers to find the best educational options? It undergirds the debate over criminal justice, welfare policy and countless other issues.
Indeed, this is a common American political dynamic, says Dannagal Young, a University of Delaware professor who wrote about the difference between liberal and conservatives takes on media and culture in her book Irony and Outrage. “Because of their support for the status quo and the existing cultural, political and social order,” she wrote to me in an email, “conservatives would tend to attribute responsibility for negative outcomes to the individual rather than to the system.” But liberals, she wrote, “are less wedded to social and cultural traditions and norms.” So they’d be in favor of broader change, tearing up the system altogether, “so that fewer individuals face those risks.”