Alternate Realities: Red and Blue America Living in Different Universes

On October 6, 1967, NBC aired an especially compelling episode of Star Trek called "Mirror, Mirror." While beaming up from the planet Halkan, the Enterprise's landing party consisting of Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott and Lt. Uhura got caught in an ion storm which scrambled the transporter beam so as to send the Federation officers to an identical Enterprise but in an alternate, parallel universe.

In this alternate reality, the Federation of Planets is not a benevolent force for inter-stellar peace. Rather it is a violently brutal fascistic empire where career advancement comes from assassination of superiors and dissent is dealt with in a manner akin to that in Bashar Assad's Syria.

Of course, as with all Star Trek episodes, somehow the fabric of the universe is restored after loads of suspense and drama and the Federation crew returns to their own ship while the Imperial officers go back to theirs.

While Star Trek is merely science fiction, mirror universes actually exist right here in America and in our present day and age. Watching the second presidential debate on Tuesday evening followed by the analyses, spin and what passes for insight on Fox and MSNBC, one couldn't help but be struck by the polar opposite realities presented by these two cable news channels and the extent to which the audiences of both have internalized these messages to a great degree.

Governor Romney and President Obama had at each other for 90 minutes of acrimonious debate that had each of these men presenting wholly different messages, ideas and beliefs than the other, so much so that one could be forgiven for wondering whether both men live in the same country. Just as the Imperial Kirk and Federation Kirk couldn't co-exist in the same place and the same time in the aforementioned Star Trek episode and something had to give -- for us that moment is coming on November 6th with election day when one view or the other must prevail.

American mirror realities are not just manifested in the presidential candidates or the cable networks -- rather, they exist in real time on those red and blue electoral college maps and in all the endless daily tracking polls that have been showing the election as a dead heat for weeks now.

There are two Americas. There is the America of the predominantly liberal and secular Northeast, Pacific Coast and a radius around Chicago and then there are the predominantly conservative and religious states of the former Confederacy (the Mason-Dixon line still holds) and Sunbelt states of Southwest. Throw in many of the "flyover" states of the agrarian Midwest and you have your "Red States." Despite mass media, red and blue residents don't share as much culturally as you might think, which is why the TV news audience is fracturing into opposing camps that only want to see and hear their versions of reality. Travel between Houston and New York or San Francisco and Atlanta and you'll know that while constitutionally we're one country, in many tangible ways many Americans live on different planets right down to what we eat for dinner. Yes, there are liberals in the red states and Republicans in blue ones, but we're talking predominance here.

Since the time of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s, the Northeast and the South have had opposite worldviews and it seems as though little has changed 180 years later. Most of the states in Lincoln's union are still in blue and Dixie is still red. This had led to some of the tightest elections over the past 15-20 years -- we had the Bush-Gore race decided by the Supreme Court. Bush-Kerry was a razor thin margin and it looks as though Romney-Obama is following down the same path.

This is why the shrinking population of undecided voters is so critical to the fortunes of both candidates. America today is probably as bifurcated as it was in 1860. It's gotten so bad that Democrats and Republicans won't even date one another.

Romney needs to convince women that he's not going to mess with Roe vs. Wade and other personal status issues and Obama needs to articulate some kind of acceptable vision for what his next four years will look like that is pragmatic and not purely ideological. Most importantly, whoever wins on November 6th had better find a way to get all the disparate factions of our government working together for the common good and at the end of the day, a lot of undecided voters will be looking for the person who can accomplish just that.