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Not part of the tribe

by John Brummett | November 13, 2022 at 1:39 a.m.

Each big election takes inventory of our tribal political division. Each inventory finds that division to be starker and deeper than the time before.

Each election reminds me I'm living in a rival tribe--even, this time, in my own neighborhood, probably on my street, even in my home. On that last one, I'm afraid to ask.

I'm all right with it. I'm like Neil Young, if only in one context--that of being tribe-averse.

I was watching an interview with Stephen Stills, who lamented that his folk-rock group Buffalo Springfield was about to hit the big time in 1966 with an appearance on the "Tonight Show." Suddenly, though, Young bolted, saying group identity under national television lights would suffocate him. He wanted to go search on his own for a heart of gold.

Stills said he thought that was because Neil never played team sports as a boy.

I played junior high football one year. I came away bunged up and asking for directions to the school newspaper office.

Writing is so happily lonely. There is, thank goodness, no scoring, no vote-counting and no trophy save a pin for doing it 50 years.

A personal newspaper column is anything but team activity. Editors are but a mild inconvenience. Sometimes mild collaboration can be sought, but only by the writer's initiative. I may run this draft by a couple of people. Or not.

But the subject is political division.

On Tuesday, the big national story was control of the U.S. Senate. Thirty-four seats were up, but only four were in question. The other states tended to be so deeply red or blue they hardly required counting.

Of those four that mattered, Pennsylvania produced a clear if narrow winner decided on the night of the election, while the other three states--Arizona, Georgia and Nevada--remained uncertain days later.

That is to say that the nation is clearly divided state to state except in a very few swing states that are so narrowly divided within themselves that we can hardly see any space in their voting returns.

In Arkansas, Pulaski County voted 63-35 for Chris Jones over Sarah Sanders for governor. As a whole, the state voted 63-35 for Sanders over Jones.

Except for Little Rock, an island in Fayetteville, one in Pine Bluff and a third in the Marianna area of the Delta, Sanders won counties by 65 percent or more, often a lot more, up to 82 percent.

If you took Pulaski County out of the center of the state, just leaving a hole, which is what Republican legislators made progress toward with their gerrymandering last year, you'd have Sanders at 70 percent.

The state House of Representatives will now be 83-17 or 84-16 in favor of Republicans. That's not enough Democrats to obstruct anything even if they wanted.

The state Senate will be 29-6 in favor of Republicans. Those six Democrats include one from Fayetteville, three from Little Rock-North Little Rock, one from Pine Bluff and one from Marianna.

Speaking of division, large concentrations of Black voters are responsible for these Democratic islands except in Fayetteville, which has academic and old-hippy progressivism, and the midtown and Hillcrest-Heights section of Little Rock.

And get a load of how overwhelming the votes go each way, focusing for convenience in this exercise on the compactness of the state 35-member Senate (the 100-member House being too unwieldy): In Little Rock, Democrat Clarke Tucker won his Senate seat by 64-37 while, in rural counties, Republican routs of Democrats went to Matt Stone in Camden by 68-32, Matt McKee in Garland County by 70-30, Ronald Caldwell in Wynne by 73-28, Jonathan Dismang in Beebe by 80-16 and Scott Flippo in Mountain Home by 80-20.

It's not that it's Democratic in this little spot and Republican in the rest. It's that the losing side doesn't stand a chance either place, losing hopelessly.

Legislators don't come to Little Rock merely in droves as Republicans or subcompact car pools as Democrats. They come as really, really Republican and, of those now caucusing in the south end of the cloakroom, really, really Democratic.

Within Little Rock, a map in this paper Thursday displaying the vote in the mayor's race made the division glaring. The pretty blue area carried by Frank Scott was solid through the eastern, southern and middle sections of town; the pretty red area carried by Steve Landers was solid over the western and northwestern sectors.

My street was in the solid blue section for Scott although I wasn't. And my own longtime roommate told me that, at her early voting site, she gave a thumbs-up to a woman holding a sign for a candidate for whom I gave no thumbs-up, or vote.

That's why I'm never happier than at this computer screen, which does not vote. It merely talks back, telling me to change "more happy" in that last sentence to "happier," even after telling me, way back up there in the first paragraph, to change "starker and deeper" to "more stark and deep."

There is nothing consistent anymore except for the ever-starker, ever-more-deep, ever-unhappier divisions in our politics.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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