American politics can be like a chess match, with each side making strategic moves trying to one-up the other.
Sometimes, though, a calculated decision to appease one group ends up leaving the king wide open.
Check, Mike Pence.
Indiana governor Mike Pence’s decision to sign into law the now-infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), has just blown the field wide open for the American political left in all of its forms.
Critics argue it gives business owners the right to refuse service to members of the LGBT community on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.
So far, among other things, we’ve seen Apple coming out against the law, Wilco canceling a concert scheduled to be in Indiana, the NCAA – right at the height of March Madness, with the Final Four coming up in Indianapolis – coming out strongly in support of their LGBT employees and student athletes, and cities like San Francisco and Seattle banning publicly-funded travel to the state.
None of these are exactly small rebukes, and they’ve all drawn considerable amounts of attention to the law.
We’ve just witnessed an even stronger one, however – one that further accentuates the growing gulf between red and blue America.
On Monday, March 30, Connecticut governor Dan Malloy signed an executive order banning all state-funded travel to Indiana.
Now, Connecticut is hardly the biggest or most populous state – imagine if California made a similar decision – but that doesn’t diminish the significance of this move. And by looking at Connecticut and Indiana’s respective characters, we can actually see a microcosm of the country as a whole.
Indiana is solidly a red state. In the last 10 presidential elections, it's only gone for the Democratic candidate once, in 2008. In 2012, it reverted straight back to its Republican ways, with Romney winning by over 10 percent.
Connecticut, on the other hand, has not voted Republican since 1988. Both of its US Senators are Democrats, as are all five of its members of the House of Representatives. It was the second state to grant marriage equality to all of its citizens, which it did in 2008 after only Massachusetts, supported by a substantial majority of its citizens.
So, it’s a blue state. Dark blue, maybe even Duke blue, like one of the Final Four schools that has spoken out against the RFRA before its upcoming trip to Indianapolis.
The fact that these two states are part of the same country is testament to the incredible diversity of people and beliefs in our wonderful land.
What we’re increasingly seeing, however, is not mixing or friendly influence moving between red states and blue states. We’re seeing tension and one-upmanship, with both sides trying to better embody the ideology of their respective party in power.
Take marriage equality for starters.
The map is now mostly made up of states allowing for gays and lesbians to marry, but it took court decisions in many of those otherwise-red states (like North Carolina, for example) to overturn the laws they had standing. Going back even just two or three years, it becomes clear that this movement originated in traditionally liberal areas like Oregon and New England.
Speaking of Oregon, it's just taken novel step of adopting automatic voter registration.
Now, anyone who has his or her information on file with the DMV will be automatically registered to vote, and this is expected to register an additional 300,000 people.
On the other side of the country, voting rights have been under attack from conservative groups since the Supreme Court struck down the core of the Voting Rights Act. This has allowed many states that were previously under supervision of the federal government to change their voting structures in ways that almost always disenfranchise poor, elderly, and minority voters.
These groups, of course, vote overwhelming Democratic. Coincidence? Unlikely.
Even without that level added onto it, though, the point is that one part of the country is pushing for progress and granting rights, and another is taking steps back and taking rights away.
And it goes further than that.
Reproductive rights are another frequent battle zone for the right and the left.
Several conservative-run states have been openly fighting for years to take away a woman’s right to choose, which recently jumped into the news after an intruder vandalized the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.
A woman’s right to choose isn’t actually an issue of progress; it’s a right, protected by the federal government since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973.
The states in question are trying to actively roll back previous progress – exactly what you’re seeing with the new voter suppression laws, and even Indiana’s new RFRA.
Especially since the beginning of Obama’s presidency, we’ve essentially seen the emergence of two Americas – Red America, and Blue America. Both have been making moves – legalization of pot in some places for the blues, the Hobby Lobby decision for the reds, and so many more – and the chess game goes on.
Does one side definitively have the upper hand? No. But is it still possible for one side to drag the other towards its end? Absolutely. So who will be the one in front?
Mike Pence just threw himself and his state into the line of fire from the blue side, and Connecticut is the first state to actively take a shot.
Whichever side bends first could signal the direction that America will go over the next decade or two – and Governor Mike Pence’s call to add anti-discrimination language to the legislation might have been just that signal.