The “Harry Potter” books famously feature a sorting hat, a magical way of determining in which house Hogwarts students truly belong: Gryffindor? Slytherin?

The Associated Press recently reported that Americans have no need for such sorcery to find the like-minded: Republicans and Democrats are separating physically at such a furious pace, the news agency reported, that the ideological divide between the states is now starker than at any point in living memory.

The most striking evidence? A single party controls the legislature in all but two states. And only 10 states are led by governors of parties that differ from the one that controls the legislature.

Some of that is a consequence of pernicious gerrymandering, of course, but there is so little common ground these days that Americans increasingly are picking up and moving to where they feel at one with the dominant cultural norms and free to express themselves.

If you want to put out a gay pride flag, you might think twice about living in one of the seven states – Indiana, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina – where the Republican attorneys general recently issued a threatening collective letter to the retailer Target over its display of LGBTQ-friendly merchandise, expressing concern about “the company’s promotion and sale of potentially harmful products to minors” and how that might constitute a “possible violation of fiduciary duties by the company’s directors and officers.”

We consider the protection of a state’s children to be a primary duty of all attorneys general, and we respect the rights of parents to guide their children, but that letter was a political salvo, an offensive contextualizing of gay pride with harm to minors, the potential for which exists in people of all kinds. The letter represented time that would have better spent investigating prosecutable predators and products with far more capacity to harm than a slogan on a T-shirt and other items of clothing.


Target does not force anyone who does not wish to buy its products to walk through its doors, and Americans are free to insist that their children shop elsewhere and to have them join them in protesting in the parking lot if they so choose.

The attorneys general should not be in the business of creating a chilling political climate for private businesses trying to navigate varying community standards. As Target and other businesses well know, the marketplace can do that by itself.

Conservatives, on the other hand, also told the AP that they can be made to feel uncomfortable, in their case if they display a pro-police flag in liberal communities or even the Stars and Stripes. That’s a sad state of affairs. Americans should have the right to indicate their support of law enforcement or express their patriotism with displays on their own property.

In some ways, of course, the so-called big sort is a harmless clustering of the like-minded: Certain college towns long have attracted progressives, just as other communities, offering lots of space and open air, have appealed more to conservatives. And we’d also note that these divides are not always marked by a state line; most small communities in downstate Illinois, for example, have more in common with rural Missouri than the towns in the Land of Lincoln’s northern reaches.

But the busy moving vans still represent a worrying trend. Homogenized states mean less incentive for politicians to work together and less incentive for Americans to see the other side of issues. They represent the diminishment of core American values that enhance the nation’s unity.

And on the most personal level, it means less chance to learn something from, and teach something to, a decent person with different views who just happens to live next door.

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