The country vs. city, white vs. black, millennials vs. the rest of the voting population, those who believed we were better off vs. those who felt things have gotten worse, struggling middle class vs. the rest…these are a few of the battle lines drawn between the two parties in the system vying for our attention. But, no single determiner was as clear as this one thing: Republican vs. Democrat. Only the White/Black vote came close to meeting the radically committed numbers leaning in any one direction.
This election showed us a nation divided pretty much 50/50. As long as these numbers continue to remain stable, the Electoral College has the potential to surprise us, and the large landmass of the center of the country with a less dense population will continue to have a strong say in national elections.
The questions being asked about how Donald Trump pulled off such a historic win continue to swirl around us, and of course, as in every election, we hear politicians speaking for us in such grandiloquent phrases as. “The people want….” Seldom does what “the people want” represent any significant category of people, and we have to ask ourselves, whom these politicians might be speaking for.
Political identity is wrapped up in the discourse of national identity. We feel that America represents this, that or some other God forsaken thing. Consequently, we align our vote with the sense of identity in something: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue – a political identification looks like more of a commitment for many people than their own wedding day. And, we will defend our positions as though we were defending our homes. But, how did America arrive at a position of dueling identities in what it means to be American? And how did that division become an almost perfect 50/50 split?
David Campbell’s International Relations book “Writing Security” describes the formation of national identity in a post-structuralist critique of the “us” versus “them” approach. A dangerous other lies out there somewhere threatening our security, and our national identity is determined and framed by keeping those hounds at bay. Other more traditional theories about the development of national identity suggest that it is our common languages, religions, and social structures that inform the description of who we are as a nation. Campbell’s theories were specifically focused upon America, and this election appears to validate some of his observations. We live among a contradiction of American identities framed around “us” versus “them”, and our voting in the Presidential election made this clear. In addition to Campbell’s focus upon the dangerous other out there somewhere in the faces of foreign countries, we have seen another enemy, and he is us. External enemies remain, but it may be the internal enemies we should fear the most.
The Republican/Democrat divide has become more and more severe over the 4 decades years I have been voting. Once upon a time the two parties talked to each other regularly, even sat down for meals together. Once upon a time there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Once upon a time one party was not necessarily radical in the eyes of the other. Today, I regularly hear people say that today’s Republicans are more radically conservative that ever. I wonder if people actually remember times before the sexual revolution (not the 60’s, but the 2000’s) and a national health plan. In those days, Democrats were more conservative that most of today’s Republicans, but somehow we expect even Tulsa born Republicans to be transformed into liberated hippie communists in less than a generation. Even Hillary was unwilling to admit that she barely made it across the acceptance line for gay marriage before this election season.
I want to suggest that the divisions in America are in great degree due to a well-orchestrated framing of internal and external approaches to a “them” vs. “us” mentality. With George Soros to the left, and Rupert Murdoch to the right, we are being manipulated against one another by identity politics. The days of “think not what your country can do for you, but think what you can do for your country” are over. In the eyes of some, nationalism is assumed to be the bane of civilization. We have traded in our flag for a chorus of “Imagine”. Yet, on the other side of the Great Divide, nostalgia still rules the day as people remember when their wages were about the same as they are now, but their dollar went almost twice as far.
George Soros, known as the man who broke the Bank of England, pours millions of dollars into social programs and political support. One moment he pays for schools, and the next he manipulates markets to make his billions. As a Hungarian philosopher/businessman, it can be difficult to tell when he is seeking to help a nation, or take advantage of it through a bit of social engineering resulting in political, and consequently, economic upheaval. The videos of blocks and blocks of buses lined up on the streets of Portland a couple days ago attest to his money being used to engineer protests against Trump’s election.
On the other side of the divide, a host of characters not as easily aligned far “right” are found. The Koch Brothers, who have been known to support gay marriage, but are far more interested in free market capitalism, throw their money into conservative think tanks and Republican candidates. This year was an exception as they moved far away from Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch, the Australian born Media mogul, owns the much maligned and popular Fox Network. Yet, he personally supported Obama. His media machine is responsible for a great degree of the release of populist conservative Republican thinking.
The money flies to its battle positions on the right and on the left, and we are influenced by the identities we are presented. We are no longer Americans. We are hyphenated Americans. We are gay-Americans, transgender-Americans, black-Americans, white-Americans, Mexican-Americans, middle class-Americans, poor-Americans, and Muslim-Americans, American-Christians and all our differing hyphenations come before our common identification as Americans. Our defense of the hyphenation, which is supported by the money of Soros and team on the left, and the host of millionaires on the right drive a what’s in it for me approach to politics.
The left is particularly susceptible to this draw of the hyphenation. Post-structural and post-colonial intellectuals have preset the parameters for new thinking on the left. In the critique that binary oppositions should be dismantled, ideas like male and female are being reframed in the ever-growing acrostic of LGBTQIA…. Strangely, those who are uncomfortable with the ever increasing erasure of definitive lines are being labeled as “homophobic”, “racist” or some other such derisive term, evidencing the fact that an “us” vs. “them” binary opposition still remains in the hearts of those fighting to overcome it. Consequently, the enemy is within the gates. It is our brother, our sister, our mother, our father. It is the Texan, the Midwesterner, or the Republican.
On the right, a simultaneously simpler and more complex set of enemies is projected. The liberal social agenda has raised the cost of personal healthcare for the struggling, hardworking middle class; and accomplished the normalization of that which was once considered moral decay. The times are compared to the Fall of Rome, or the Curse of God upon a nation. Yet, the enemy within is not the only enemy. There is the enemy without. The news reports of people chanting against America in the streets of the Middle East support a well-framed picture of the enemies outside our boundaries. The Christian right fears for its way of life, sees it slipping away, and forgets that its initial impetus for being a community was inclusion rather than exclusion, and protectionism becomes the new God.
These are some of the forces driving the divisions in the American public, and one can almost see Soros and Murdoch meeting for dinner and toasting to their profits from a tortured American political landscape.
For more provocative thinking about the problems hindering true discourse in our world check out Burning Religion.