Updated: Oct 8, 2021
Democracy is a messy process. By its very nature, participation of the voting populace is required, and people rarely agree on the day of the week. From the moment the Founders added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, the recipe for success is found in the deliberative compromise of people who disagree with one another. From 1861-1865, the Union divided against itself in a bloody civil war. At the turn of the twentieth century, women still did not have widespread suffrage. Following WWII, African Americans decorated in war came home to continued discrimination. During the Vietnam War, America’s youth rose up to say “hell no, we won't go.” In the last thirty years, culture wars lay bare the fault lines between localization and globalization. As society changed, technology advanced, the psyche of working class men became depressed, even despondent. They needed someone to believe in.
With the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency on November 8, 2016, everything we thought we knew about America is in doubt. The most powerful country on earth suddenly had to be made great again by a man who claimed he alone could do it. His ardent followers supported every move he made and every word he said. The American conscience saw the world in fewer shades of grey, and more implicitly in Blacks and Whites.
The quiet rage of America’s underbelly of race driven hate surged to the surface in Charlottesville, on the streets of Minneapolis, and in the corners of American communities, urban and rural. Police Brutality in broad daylight took the life of George Floyd, and in the midnight hour murdered Breonna Taylor. Under the guise of protect and serve, Black lives never mattered less than when the white power structure unleashed its pent up fury. Granted cover from the president, and permission from the mainstream media, generations of racial hatred, once silent, now unchained, reacted in loud tones of violence and divisiveness.
Since the closing of cotton mills in the South, steel mills in the Rust Belt, and auto plants in Detroit, a sense of the devaluation of white men permeated the American political agenda. Democrats and Republicans alike determined every election cycle that it was imperative to win the elusive “white working class voter.” As localization disappeared or was overwhelmed by the spread of globalization, and outsourcing, white male anger increased. Often amplified by poverty, and losses of economic security by prideful men who were used to supporting families, independence became self loathing, characterized by moral outrage.
Trump, in 2015, claimed to be a man of the people, a working class billionaire. He captured the attention of these lost voters, misunderstood by society, often discarded in an increasingly tech driven job market. When he said “make America great again”, these men heard someone voice exactly what they had longed to hear from a presidential candidate for years. When he said Immigrants were taking their jobs, these working class men loathed themselves less, and the immigrants more. Trump stoked the flames of anger, frustration, and rage for four years. Then, on January 6th, 2021, the fire he set in America could no longer be contained. As his presidency ended, Donald Trump evoked this next chapter of political unrest in the United States.
As Congress began to certify the electoral victory of Joseph R. Biden, winner of the 2020 presidential election, Trump stood on the stage at a rally and told thousands of ravenous supporters, those who felt left behind, filled with rage, and believing the “big lie” to go to the Capital and “fight like hell” to save their country. A short time later, they overwhelmed police using bear spray, baseball bats, and flag poles. These self prophesied, forsaken few, breached the halls of congress. Senators, Representatives, and members of the media sought cover where it could be found. The Vice President rushed away with his family, not knowing that a gallows was erected in his honor by those who viewed him as a traitor to Trump. As the smoke cleared, no resolution to their grievances, those misguided insurrectionists left Washington, remaining forever loyal to the man who gave voice to their pain.
Now, 10 months, four dead police officers, and far too many unanswered questions later, Trump maintains an iron grip on the Republican Party. They are paralyzed with the knowledge that they cannot win without him, yet are unlikely to be victorious with him. What he unleashed in 2015 is now the character of the one time Party of Lincoln. Those who once fought to abolish the peculiar institution, today stand on a platform of voter restrictions and racism. Trump granted permission to those who feel angry, bewildered, left behind, passed up, passed over and marginalized to voice their hate and act on their long pent up rage.
In this era, post Trump, the United States, once divided in bloody civil war, is immersed in social, economic, and political combat. Democrats and Republicans can find no common ground because they share no common values, and have no drive to serve the common good. Trump did not cause this virus of inhumanity, this factionalism. He was the culmination of generational anger and divergence of the two Americas. The haves and the have nots, sometimes divided by race, always by socio-economics, no longer believe that the land of the free offers the American Dream. They have no hope for tomorrow because they cannot see past the anger planted before, nurtured by, and lingering post Trump.
America is in crisis. Our political leaders are either complicit in the plan to destroy Democracy or un-alarmed by the reality that the Republic is in jeopardy. Americans are divided along lines of race and racism. Socioeconomically, the gap between the rich and poor is wider than ever before. Secular America is disgusted by and under threat from religious fanaticism. Women's rights are under assault as SCOTUS appears poised to strike down Roe v. Wade. There is no unity because hate overrides all other emotions. Today, being American is defined by being Red or Blue, not by saluting the red, white and blue.
There is one question, above all others that we, Americans in both Red and Blue States must confront.
In a Divided America, where the hell do we go from here?