A Divided Nation
posted by: Joe Mulhall | on: Sunday, 17 July 2016, 13:35
Americans are famous for their optimism. As far back as the start of the 19th century the French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville noted how Americans ‘have all a lively faith in the perfectibility of man […] and they admit that what appears to them to be good to-day may be superseded by something better to-morrow.’ More recently, in the face of economic turmoil Obama declared that Americans still have the, ‘innate optimism required to shape another American Century.’
From a British perspective, a country where moaning is something of a defining national characteristic, the seemingly eternal optimism of our American cousins is often mocked or even ridiculed. However, like so much else, you don’t half miss it when it’s gone.
A Week of Shootings
This weekend saw three police officers being shot dead and another three injured in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This comes just days after the death of five police officers in Dallas, Texas who were shot by Micah Johnson who told the police negotiators that ‘he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers’.
The deaths of these eight policemen comes in the wake of a number of high profile shootings of black men at the hands of American police. Last week saw Alton Sterling from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile from Falcon Heights, Minnesota both shot dead by police.
Their deaths are just the latest in an increasingly long list of people killed by law enforcement that includes Michael Brown and Eric Garner and have brought thousands onto the streets around the country under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter.
The anger is palpable and in certain areas it feels as though the trust between the police and the community has totally disintegrated.
However, speaking at the memorial for the police officers killed in Dallas, Obama, with traditional American optimism, said: ‘I'm here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem’. Yet, despite his oratorical skill his words rang hollow, his sentiments, while noble, don’t seem to echo the prevailing national mood.
When watching the TV, listening to the radio and speaking to people in bars and restaurants there is a sense of confusion, anger, helplessness and yes, that most un-American sentiment, pessimism. America feels divided.
A Racist President?
This week of killing comes during an ugly, identity based Presidential race that has been marred by Trump’s racism. Many in Europe have watched aghast and open mouthed as Donald Trump made the transition from a bad joke to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
‘How could this happen?’ has been the oft-repeated refrain. How can a demagogic, xenophobic, misogynist bully with verbal diarrhea and a seeming-compulsion to lie be the nominee of the Grand Old Party of American politics?
Well, the truth is that Trump is a symptom of a problem rather than the cause of it. As Jonathan Rauch put it in The Atlantic magazine, ‘Trump […] didn’t cause the chaos. The chaos caused Trump.’
Drivers of Trump Support
In seeking to understand the rise of Trump many have drawn parallels with Europe, pointing to the scapegoating of immigrants among economically deprived constituents on both sides of the Atlantic and the resulting effect on far-right and populist political parties and candidates.
This may well help to explain some of his support among white working class voters. As in Europe, whole communities have felt the negative effects of deindustrialisation and globalization and, while many economists believe immigration boosts the wages of native-born Americans, it likely depresses the wages of those without high-school degrees. Whatever the truth of the matter, immigration is certainly perceive by some as the cause of their economic predicament.
This fear and anger has been compounded by a failure by mainstream political elites and social democratic parties to address the needs of these communities, sometimes resulting in a rejection of traditional/professional politicians.
It’s for these reasons that, while unlikely, if Trump is to stand a chance of winning in November his road to the Whitehouse will have to pass through the big Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Scream of a Dying People
However, the left-behind communities finding hope in Trump’s message are not just hurting economically but also physically. While American’s from other racial, ethic and economic classes are living longer than ever before, poor white people are dying faster.
Two Princeton economists have found that this rise in death rates is not driven by big killers like diabetes and heart disease but rather by an epidemic of suicides and illnesses that result from substance abuse. Is the cry of ‘TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP’ at rallies across the country actually the scream of a dying people?
Yet, economics alone cannot explain the rise of Trump and some evidence questions the correlation all together. A 2015 Pew study asked whether immigrants make America better or worse in the long run and the results showed a distinctly partisan split between Democrats and Republicans; Democrats replied ‘better’ by a margin of 31 points while Republicans answered ‘worse’ by a margin of 22 points.
In addition, exit polls conducted in 23 primary states showed that Trump voters’ median income exceeded the overall statewide median in all 23 states. Also, Trump supporters earn more than supporters of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Such findings undermine the notion that economic deprivation is the primary driver of anti-immigrant feeling.
Clearly race plays a central role in American politics and in addition to economics and health some have pointed to a perceived decline in white dominance as an additional driver of Trump’s support.
Other political scientists and psychologists highlight innate authoritarian personality tendencies in a portion of the public as a contributor to Trump’s success. And of course, you can’t rule out plain old racism.
Over the next few months HOPE not hate will be exploring the drivers of Trumps support and speaking to Trump voters across America. As always, when we find racism we will condemn and challenge it and when we find legitimate anger and fear we will listen and try to understand.
Check back regularly for more from HOPE not hate in America!
Posted: 17 Jul 2016 | There are 1 comments
Comment 1 | From: Kael Moffat | Date: 18 July 2016, 18:21
Another aspect in considering Trump's political "rise" is the unveiled anti-intellectual stance he often takes, which mirrors a concern voiced by progressives for many years now. Trump has tapped into this "Tea Party" vein of the Grumpy Old Patriarchs and exploited it with all the skill of an Adolf Hitler or Vladimir Lenin (in the end, weren't the two more similar than different?). But Trump and the Tea Party-ers are simply a manifestation of ugly, deep-growing roots of the American political tree (here's a quick discussion: http://scholar.harvard.edu/bonikowski/trump-made-america). In fact, David Niose, in a 2015 column for psychologytoday.com drew a clear line between anti-intellectualism, racism, and America's apparent decline on the international stage (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201506/anti-intellectualism-is-killing-america), claiming that the tendency to rail against facts and research will lead to America's undoing. This, it seems, is the most tragic and infuriating backdrop behind the ascendency of Trump's potty-mouthed brand of politics. Bloviato ergo sum.
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