The Investigators

Searching for the political middle in a divided U.S.

Author Ken Stern argues that most U.S. citizens are political independents but polarization means both major parties have moved further from the centre, while Stephen Marche says the U.S. political divide could actually spill into civil conflict.

Ahead of midterm elections, 2 authors offer wildly different opinions on what’s next for the U.S.

Fact checking Trump’s ‘lies’ | Polarized politics | A looming U.S. civil war?

4 years ago
Duration 22:20
When Donald Trump bends the truth The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale is there. Plus searching for the political middle in America. And should Canada prepare for a looming American civil war? Watch ‘The Investigators with Diana Swain’ Thursdays at 7:00 pm on CBC Television; Saturdays at 9:30 pm ET and Sundays at 5:30 pm ET on CBC News Network.

It's hard to know which is more remarkable.

The curse-filled rant that got more than 2 million views on Facebook this week, or that it feels almost benign compared to much of the vitriol spewing out of the angry volcano that now seems to be the United States.

In the cellphone video Houston resident Janet Espejel posted this week after voting in advance of U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 6, she's yelled at by a man who doesn't like her driving.

"That's not how we drive in America. Trump's deporting your stupid cousins today, b*tch!"

It didn't take long for the internet to find his identity. Charles Greier is an avid supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump and his immigration policies.

It was just another microcosm moment from a country that often appears from this side of the border to be made up almost entirely of people angrily shouting at each other in between packing rallies for Donald Trump, or taking to social media to urge that he be impeached.

No place for moderates?

Ken Stern understands why Canadians might view the U.S. as a country so politically polarized it no longer has a moderate middle.

"It's a reasonable interpretation, given how people talk in the media and how President Trump describes the country," he said. "But most Americans, the largest percentage of Americans, identify themselves as independents, far more than Democrats and Republicans." 

Stern was formally the head of National Public Radio in the U.S, but in 2015 undertook a unique personal experiment. 

He left what he refers to as his "96 per cent Democrat" neighbourhood in Washington, D.C., and spent months travelling mostly Republican parts of the U.S. He chronicled his findings in a book titled, Republican Like Me: How I left the Liberal bubble and learned to love the right.

Watch as author Ken Stern discusses political polarization:

Is there no political middle left in America? | The Investigators with Diana Swain

4 years ago
Duration 5:27
It seems like Americans are more polarized than ever. But are there really no moderates left? Diana asks Ken Stern author of ‘Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right.’ Watch ‘The Investigators with Diana Swain’ Thursdays at 7:00 pm on CBC Television; Saturdays at 9:30 pm ET and Sundays at 5:30 pm ET on CBC News Network.

"A lot of the reason we dislike the other side is because we don't know the other side, we're increasingly physically divided," Stern told CBC's The Investigators this week.

While people who identify as Republican or Democrat do seem to distrust each other more than ever, he now believes most Americans are actually members of what he calls, "the exhausted middle."

"They neither heavily identify with Trump or anti-Trump. They don't like the tenor of the debate; they just wish it would stop, frankly."

He believes a majority of Americans won't vote in the midterm elections because no one in the country's two-party system represents their views.

"The Democratic Party has moved to the left; the Republican party has moved to the right," he said. "There's not a natural place for moderates to go anymore in the American political system."

Another civil war?

Stern's portrait of a country not-so-close to implosion, however, is a stark contrast to the way Stephen Marche sees it.

"I think it's pretty clear that chaos is emerging," Marche said. "The far-right has violent movements that are growing every day in strength and numbers — and [they] are very armed." 

He's a Canadian journalist and author who recently wrote an essay for The Walrus magazine suggesting the U.S. is moving toward its next civil war.

While he agrees with Stern that the trend of "these two parties hating each other has been underway for about 30 years," he disagrees that most Americans haven't chosen a side.

Watch as journalist Stephen Marche discusses the possibility of another U.S. civil war:

Is America headed for civil war? | The Investigators with Diana Swain

4 years ago
Duration 4:56
Journalist and author Stephen Marche controversially argues another U.S. civil war is on the horizon. And says Canadians need to be getting ready for it now. Watch ‘The Investigators with Diana Swain’ Thursdays at 7:00 pm on CBC Television; Saturdays at 9:30 pm ET and Sundays at 5:30 pm ET on CBC News Network.

"There are basically no independents in the United States," Marche said. "The hope that ... some kind of post-partisan figure is going to emerge that will bring America together, on the right or the left, that's just not realistic."

Marche believes Canada needs to start contemplating its future without the U.S. as we currently know it.

"We're not going to be able to just be in these people's shadows for long because they're crumbling," he said. "I think it's actually kind of an opportunity for Canada to re-evaluate its place in the world."

Also this week on The Investigators with Diana Swain, the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale talks about fact-checking Donald Trump and how he's able do it in real-time during Trump's frequent rallies.


Multi-award-winning journalist Diana Swain is the senior investigative correspondent for CBC News and host of The Investigators on CBC News Network.