In understanding the polarization and paralysis that afflict national politics in the United States, it is a mistake to think in terms of left and right. The appropriate directions are North and South. To be specific, the long, drawn-out, agonizing identity crisis of white Southerners is having effects that reverberate throughout our federal union. The transmission mechanism is the Republican Party, an originally Northern party that has now replaced the Southern wing of the Democratic Party as the vehicle for the dwindling white Southern tribe.
As someone whose white Southern ancestors go back to the 17th century in the Chesapeake Bay region, I have some insight into the psychology of the tribe. The salient fact to bear in mind is that the historical experience of the white South in many ways is the opposite of the experience of the rest of the country.
Mainstream American history, from the point of view of the white majority in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast, is a story of military successes. The British are defeated, ensuring national independence. The Confederates are defeated, ensuring national unity. And in the 20th century the Axis and Soviet empires are defeated, ensuring (it is hoped) a free world.
The white Southern narrative — at least in the dominant Southern conservative version — is one of defeat after defeat. First the attempt of white Southerners to create a new nation in which they can be the majority was defeated by the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Doomed to be a perpetual minority in a continental American nation-state, white Southerners managed for a century to create their own state-within-a-state, in which they could collectively lord it over the other major group in the region, African-Americans. But Southern apartheid was shattered by the second defeat, the Civil Rights revolution, which like the Civil War and Reconstruction was symbolized by the dispatching of federal troops to the South. The American patriotism of the white Southerner is therefore deeply problematic. Some opt for jingoistic hyper-Americanism (the lady protesteth too much, methinks) while a shrinking but significant minority prefer the Stars and Bars to the Stars and Stripes.