Commentary

A neighborhood political count

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I still take the Sunday New York Times, though God knows why; I never actually read it anymore.

Its motto should probably be changed to “All the news that fits one side of the narrative.” The newspaper has taken sides in the ongoing cultural-political war, and I don’t want to subject myself to its abdication of journalistic integrity.

I still stumble across its online stories on occasion, however, and I saw one last week that got more of my attention than I really wanted to give it. “Do you live in a political bubble?” was the provocative headline.

“One in three Americans are completely isolated from the opposite party,” the story said. “Republicans and Democrats are increasingly isolated from each other, rhetorically and geographically.”

There is the Bay Area, for example, “the country’s most Democratic enclave,” where the election of Donald Trump must have been quite a shock. On the other hand, the residents of Gillette, Wyo., “where about 9 out of 10 voters are Republicans, might have equally been shocked by President Biden’s victory.”

See what I mean? Having invested so much in the country’s bitter division, the Times wants to make sure people never forget which side they are on.

I should have left the story after those few paragraphs, but, unfortunately for me, it included an interactive map. I am a sucker for interactive maps. Just ask anybody.

If I entered my address, the story said, the map would tell me how the 1,000 people nearest me vote and I could discover if indeed I live in a political bubble.

I did, of course — that’s what suckers do.

“Many of your neighbors — 64 percent — are Democrats,” the map told me. “You don’t quite live in a bubble, but we wouldn’t say your neighbors are politically diverse, either.”

Not a big surprise to me, actually. Though I live in one of the reddest states, with a Republican governor and GOP supermajorities in both legislative chambers, my house is in a neighborhood near downtown Fort Wayne. We all know Democrats like to huddle together, dutifully sorting out their recyclables and regretfully calling Uber when their beloved mass transit lets them down.

The Republicans flee to the newest suburban haven as soon as they can, to escape the filth, crime and drugs the Democrats don’t seem to mind, where their children can walk safely through nearly treeless streets fronting the houses that all look the same.

Just like the map tells me: “There’s a ZIP code eight miles away from you where only 23 percent of the average Republican’s neighbors are Democrats.”

I’m not sure what an “average” Republican is, but I get the point. Out there in the ‘burbs beats the true conservative heart of Hoosierland.

Even without the map’s help, I could have pretty accurately estimated my neighborhood’s makeup, just by counting masks.

Everything has become political these days, the science of public health included — thank you, New York Times — and we all know now that Democrats love wearing their masks and Republicans hate it.

I even heard the other day about a Democrat who had been fully vaccinated and knew he was safe, but always double-masked, even outside, because he didn’t want to be mistaken for a Republican. And can you imagine the cognitive dissonance of the germophobic Republican who never takes his mask off despite being shunned by his judgmental suburban cronies?

Is it futile to ask that we try to keep neighborhoods as one of civilization’s most reliable redoubts, fortresses to which we can retreat, leaving all the frustrations and fears of the real world outside?

Call me old-fashioned. I don’t care whether my neighbors are Democrat or Republican, Presbyterian or Muslim, gay or straight. I just care whether they are casually friendly, keep their yards up and don’t try to sell me candy to fund band camp.

And I want to judge them in the conventional, time-honored way, with but a glance through the filter of my prejudices and preconceptions.

That young guy with visitors at all hours — has to be a drug dealer. That old woman alone — bet she has a dozen cats. That young, frazzled couple — their holy terror kids better stay off my lawn.

And that prickly geezer, the one everybody wonders about, who parks in the back and is seldom seen at the front door, with two months’ worth of Sunday New York Times on the porch ...

Oh, wait. That’s me.

Yes, I voted. Don’t ask me for whom, and I won’t tell.

 

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.

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