An Even Bigger “Big Sort”

I’ve referred previously to the important 2004 book The Big Sort, which documented the way in which Americans have been “sorting” ourselves by choosing to live in areas we find philosophically and politically compatible. The book, by Bill Bishop, cast light on one of the underappreciated reasons Americans are so culturally and politically divided.

Much more recently, a lengthy article fromThe New Republic documented a sharp increase in that sorting. Red states have been bleeding college graduates for a while now–in Indiana, the “brain drain” is a persistent source of concern at the statehouse– but there is considerable evidence that “hard-right social policies in red states are making this dynamic worse.”

Let me just quote a few paragraphs from the article, which–as I indicated–is lengthy.

The number of applications for OB-GYN residencies is down more than 10 percent in states that have banned abortion since Dobbs. Forty-eight teachers in Hernando County, Florida, fed up with “Don’t Say Gay” and other new laws restricting what they can teach, resigned or retired at the end of the last school year. A North Carolina law confining transgender people to bathrooms in accordance with what it said on their birth certificate was projected, before it was repealed, to cost that state $3.76 billion in business investment, including the loss of a planned global operations center for PayPal in Charlotte. A survey of college faculty in four red states (Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina) about political interference in higher education found a falloff in the number of job candidates for faculty positions, and 67 percent of the respondents said they would not recommend their state to colleagues as a place to work. Indeed, nearly one-third said they were actively considering employment elsewhere.

Until very recently, college graduates had split their votes between the parties. But with the arrival of Donald Trump,

college graduates left the Republican fold for the foreseeable future. Trump dropped the Republican share to 44 percent in 2016 and 43 percent in 2020. If Trump wins the nomination in 2024, the GOP’s share of college voters could drop below 40, and I don’t see any of Trump’s challengers for the Republican nomination doing much better. It isn’t clear they even want to, because today’s GOP sees college graduates as the enemy.

Then there’s the accelerating exodus of OB-GYNs from states governed by Republicans who–in Barney Frank’s memorable phase–believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.

It was hard enough for red states to hold onto their OB-GYNs even before Dobbs. A little more than one-third of all counties nationwide are “maternity care deserts,” typically in rural areas, with no hospitals or birthing centers that offer obstetric care and no individual obstetric providers (not even midwives), according to the March of Dimes.

It isn’t just OB-GYNs and the relative handful of doctors who assist transgender children. It’s also educators.

Since January 2021, 18 states have imposed restrictions on how teachers may address the subjects of race and gender, according to Education Week’s Sarah Schwartz. These include most of the Dobbs Fourteen and a few add-ons, including Florida and New Hampshire. According to a 2022 study by the RAND Corporation, legislative action not only accelerated after 2021 but also became more repressive, extending beyond the classroom to restrict professional development plans for teachers. Let’s call these teacher-harassing states the Morrison Eighteen, in honor of the late Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, whose The Bluest Eye is number three with a bullet on the American Library Association’s 2022 list of books most frequently targeted for removal. (The 1970 novel ranked eighth in 2021 and ninth in 2020.)

Taking a tour of the Morrison Eighteen, we find Texas teachers quitting at a rate that’s 25 percent above the national average. In Tennessee, the vacancy rate for all public schools is 5.5 percent, compared to a national average of 4 percent. South Carolina has teacher shortages in 17 subject areas this school year, more than any other state.

But Governor Ron DeSantis’s Florida is the undisputed champ. A 2022 study led by Tuan D. Nguyen of Kansas State University found that Florida had the most teacher vacancies in the country, followed by Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama (all Morrison Eighteen states). Florida also logged the highest number of under-qualified teachers.

Remember John Edwards theme of “Two Americas”? He wasn’t talking about the culture wars then, but the phrase certainly seems appropriate.

In 2010, the GOP’s incredibly successful Redmap project--its “gerrymander on steroids”–installed rightwing legislators in a number of formerly competitive states. Those lawmakers proceeded to pass the culture war policies that are motivating the exodus of educated citizens and professionals–aka “smarty pants”–  resented by the angry know-nothings who are now the GOP’s base voters.

And so here we are. Click through, read the entire article, and weep….


  1. “Florida…logged the highest number of under-qualified teachers.“ DeS and his legislative toadies are uninterested in having qualified teachers; they want teachers who will indoctrinate ideology. Those with real educational qualifications need not apply.

  2. What could better define the GOP’s lurch toward fascism than the destruction of education and the imposition of ideological freedom removals from their pathetic idea of “liberty” more than this evidence? Soon, however, it won’t matter because elections will become irrelevant as these monsters gain and consolidate more power. That’s all it is for these folks: POWER.

    But the question must be begged: What will they have power over? Money? People with no money? The Republican part of this country is a comedy waiting for somebody to write the play. If they think Donald Trump is that playwright, they will discover that it is more akin to “It” than “The Music Man”.

  3. As another of my grandchildren heads to the west coast today for a job interview, I cannot help but to reflect on the sorry state of the State of Indiana.
    The Republican Party has run this backward enterprise for most of my life here. Certainly, the past twenty years have been nothing short of regression into some kind of make believe “family values” corruption center for greed. Even their candidates for governor admit as much in their tv ads as they whine about the need to pay attention to small towns, education and the economy. They don’t mention guns or women’s rights. What any of them can do about these matters is a mystery since the Republican state legislature is made up of the most narrow minded ignoramuses ever to grace that chamber.
    So, another grandchild will pack up and leave looking for a better life. And another one is in the wings anxious to go too. This Christmas Eve they will all gather at my house for what I figure will be the last time I see all of them together. I am happy for them, but sad for these old bones.

  4. That’s what happens when in a secular society you bring religious dogma into the mix.

    In a country that’s made up of many, E pluribus unum, religious practices, social practices/culture, There should never be an allowance for laws in state or federal that penalizes someone for there lifestyle.

    There was a reason for the separation between church and state, and the division that occurred in Europe, was not wanted here. Laws were passed, and wars were fought because of religious authoritarianism and/or persecution.

    So what do we have? We have the concerted effort by those who desire power and authority over their fellow man, to pass religious dogma as secular law. Really, I highly doubt if it’s legal in the system that we call government here in the States. You can see the division that is probably going to end up being catastrophic!

    Everyone points to their enemy or so-called enemy, but refuse to use a mirror for some self-reflection! The conscience makes a perfect mirror, it accuses or absolves, It sees an accurate picture or a hazy outline. An accurate facsimile or a delusional vision!

    Face to face conversations with people I’ve never met before, is easy for me. And the first thing to do is find common ground. And it could be something as simple as the type of coffee you drink. Eventually, you can get down to the more nitty gritty portion of the conversation without causing consternation. Stay agreeable within reason, without compromising actual reality, surprising things happen.

    Love your neighbor, love God, and love your enemy! If you actually follow this simple path, it will be very difficult to despise your fellow citizen. Everything in moderation, and in this regard, ambiguity can be a friend. Sometimes, cutting to the chase can actually increase anxiety and anger.

    I’ve never met a stranger, and I prefer it that way, I’ve also dealt with individuals who claim to follow the same Nexus but are about is cool as a hot plate on high!

    Separation between church and state, throw out laws that favor particular religious dogma, and become a nation of laws again. But if that doesn’t happen, society as a whole will collapse.

  5. I went to BARD or Google’s AI to get recommendations to stop the sorting mentioned by Sheila — the 8 results are challenging but give a breadth of ideas:

    1. Encourage Mixed-Ideology Interactions: Foster opportunities for people with different political viewpoints to interact and engage in meaningful conversations. This could involve supporting mixed-ideology housing developments, promoting workplace diversity initiatives, and organizing cross-partisan community events.

    2. Promote Civic Education and Media Literacy: Enhance civic education programs to instill a deeper understanding of American history, democratic values, and the importance of civil discourse. Encourage media literacy to help individuals critically evaluate information sources and discern fact from opinion.

    3. Support Local Community Initiatives: Nurture local efforts that bring people together across political lines, such as volunteer projects, community gardens, and neighborhood cleanup initiatives. These activities can foster a sense of shared purpose and build stronger community bonds.

    4. Encourage Political Moderation and Compromise: Promote a culture of political moderation and compromise, emphasizing the importance of finding common ground and working together for the common good. Encourage political leaders to prioritize bipartisanship and seek solutions that can garner broad support.

    5. Address Underlying Socioeconomic Issues: Tackle the underlying socioeconomic factors contributing to polarization, such as economic inequality, educational disparities, and geographic divisions. Investing in education, job training, and infrastructure can help reduce disparities and foster a more cohesive society.

    6. Counteract Inflammatory Rhetoric and Disinformation: Combat the spread of inflammatory rhetoric and disinformation that exacerbates political divisions. Encourage respectful dialogue and fact-based debates, while holding accountable those who spread misinformation and promote hatred.

    7. Promote Civic Engagement and Voter Participation: Increase civic engagement and voter participation, particularly among underrepresented groups. Encourage individuals to become informed about political issues and actively participate in the democratic process.

    8. Foster a Culture of Mutual Respect and Understanding: Cultivate a culture of mutual respect and understanding, emphasizing the shared values and common humanity that unite Americans. Encourage empathy and appreciation for diverse perspectives, even during political disagreements.

  6. The Establishment clause in the First Amendment clearly means nothing to the average Republican politician. Ironically, neither does the Sermon on the Mount.

  7. Sheila, please correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t Indiana recently been lowering the standards for being a teacher? I seem to recall that IN may no longer require a four year degree because so many IN teachers are fed up and have left the profession and we don’t have enough college age people interested in joining a profession that is daily attacked by culture warriors.

  8. Nancy–I believe our legislative overlords allow school corporations to fill vacancies with people who haven’t been certified. I’m unsure of the details.

  9. This is all very scary. I happen to know a very nice lady, we have known her for over 20 years, going back to our lives in N.J., who happened to be a good friend of a woman living in the very same development we moved to in 2019. This N.J. native has a H.S. diploma, (from N.J.), she had not even walked onto a college campus, and has become a grammar school teacher, here, in Fl., where the pay for any teacher is abominably low.
    This woman, has “a heart of gold,” as the saying goes, spent years on the local Domestic Violence team, in N.J. But, she is a teacher in Florididia! More power to her, indeed, but less power to the kids that Florida teaches!
    By the way, DeSantis is a product of a Florida childhood, just in case anyone wondered, or gave a damn.

  10. John Sorg, you do know that “E Pluribus Unum” has been replaced with “In God We Trust” on all of our currency? Just one more example of incrementally tearing down the wall that should exist between church and state. Sigh!!!!!!

  11. Some of you are looking at he world through “blue-colored” glasses. Places like CA, NJ, NY, MA are losing population to Raleigh, Austin, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas. These are college-educated (and many young). Political effect? Simple – gerrymander them into their own district while the many more rural red districts run the state. That’s the real sort – check the numbers.

  12. Sheila’s references today follow (ahem!) my predictions of brain drain in Florida as De Fascist politicizes education (as he has medicine etc.) via redesign of curriculum, redefinition of tenure, removal of professional educators and their replacement by politicians etc. I had a house on a lake in North Naples and had intended to live it out there, but with his election and the advent of fascism into governing, I sold out and moved back to Indiana, a move some might rightly describe as jumping off the skillet into the fire since both Florida and Indiana are “served” by Republican super-majorities.

    Todd’s reference to an idealization of democracy today is right on, but I fear even if at a national level we put such recommendations front and center as policy and all of the areas they cover were realized that the coming unknowable impact of AI could render adoption of yesterday’s solutions to tomorrow’s problems useless, though an argument could be made that such recommendations should be adopted for the interim between now and the arrival of the AI tsunami.

    We need another Isaac Asimov to tell us in terms we can understand what researchers are finding and predicting for our human society what with the new norms on the near horizon where even the nature of change is changing, where the new problems created by AI are unknown but certain, and where AI may itself be able to fashion solution of such problems without direct human involvement – all of which makes one wonder if the ultimate end of such AI sophistication is to make humanity redundant. I, Robot?

  13. PS to my earlier note about what is really happening. The folks leaving blue states are either retirees doing well or young adults doing well. Their tax dollars are going to support the red state policies where they move. The blue states they have left, loose their taxes while having to still help the working class and poor left behind. Should this continue…maybe some Blues will “bleed” into Purple or worse? IGIO

  14. Lester > or remain blue and in time make their red states purple, or even blue. Maybe our glass is half full, not half empty.

  15. Todd,
    Did you read the 8 things that BARD coughed up for you, or did you just post them?

    They are all excellent suggestions for a society where everyone is open to discussion of ideas. But, do you really think that we are living in such a society? My observation is that we are not in such a society.

    Biden is attempting to do and discuss all of the things mentioned in the 8 recommendations. Do you see ANY indication of open discussion, or flexibility, from the other side? I don’t! All that I see from the other side are claims that Biden is lying. No suggestions of any alternative policies other than Full Stop / Full Reverse.

  16. Peggy, wow! I wasn’t aware that, “in God we trust” actually replaced “E pluribus unum”!!!?!

    They just keep chipping away at the foundations of a secular civil society. One where everybody should be able to get along, unified in finding a better life.
    In my mind, if that’s the case, and I have no doubt that it is, because you are very good at articulating fact, that presents a further slide to authoritarian religious fascism.

    Sad, and more than likely, the extinction of the United States as a lasting influential world power.

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