Apr 11th 2017

The Trump Divide

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

   

Over the years, there have been many divides that have defined the American social, cultural, or political landscape. Some have been philosophical, regional, issue-based, racial, economic, gender or age-related. But none have been as deep or as disturbing as the divide that is currently fracturing the American people.

This one is different because it crosses demographic lines (except for race) and isn't as much about ideas or issues as it is about the person of Donald Trump. I'm not sure if he is the source of this rupture or if he is a symptom of it. But whether it is one or the other or both, it should be clear that this division is about Trump. In listening to conversations about the president, it feels as if we have become two separate nations, with each seeing him and what he represents so differently that we can no longer understand each other or even speak with each other.

About 60% of Americans just don't trust Trump. They see him as impulsive, erratic, and unbalanced; they are either disgusted by or embarrassed by his behavior; and they are frightened at the prospect of the lasting damage they fear he will do to the country and its institutions. 

This past week, the Los Angeles Times ran a series of six lengthy "no holds barred" editorials that captured the mind-set of this 60%.  Collectively the editorials constituted a scathing indictment of the dangers posed to America, its political culture and institutions by the presidency of Donald Trump. They charged him with: repeatedly demonstrating "an utter disregard for truth"; giving voice to race-based conspiracy theories; "targeting the darkness, anger, and insecurity that hide in each of us and harnessing them for his own purposes";  and  "undermining public confidence" in core American institutions (a free press, an independent judiciary, and the electoral process, itself).

In one particularly devastating paragraph the Times' editorial board wrote:    

"What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself. He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that is is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth, and success, his determination to vanquish enemies, real and imagined, his craving for adulation—these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped him get elected. But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous".

While I confess that I identify with the views of the Times, I recognize how important it is to remember the nearly 40% of Americans who hold a dramatically different view of the President they elected. They see him as a truth-teller who represents their last, best hope to restore traditional values they feel are in danger of being lost. They have placed their trust in him and believe that he is the strong and principled leader who defends them, fight for their interests and "make America great again". Even now, they turn out at Trump rallies, they cheer him on, and they continue to believe in him.

They are true believers who reject any criticism of their president and appear to be resistant to letting truth or facts get in the way of their support. He has backtracked on issues that were central to his candidacy (building a wall paid for by Mexico) or told bold-faced lies (that his crowds or ratings were bigger than those of President Obama) and yet his most ardent followers haven't blinked an eye.  

It is difficult to understand how Evangelicals could vote for and continue to support a thrice-married hedonist. Or why so many women would vote for and continue to support a misogynist who has spoken of women in such degrading terms. Or why honest, hard-working Americans facing economic hardships could put their faith in an individual who in his multiple bankruptcies has brought economic ruin to tens of thousands of folks just like them.

Equally confounding is how, in an election year: where "elites" were rejected; where voters railed against "out of touch" politicians who couldn't be trusted to defend the interests of the common man; and where a key concern for many was the class-based issue of the "rich getting richer, while the poor get poorer"—some voters chose and still stand by a president who was: born rich and parlayed "pay-for play politics" to get richer, and flies, at the public's expense, between the White House and his Florida golf resort while his children continue to fly around the world making business deals in foreign lands (while receiving publicly financed security protection). 

The academic part of me can understand what's going on, nevertheless, I am troubled. I did my post-doctoral work studying movements that spring up in societies under stress—where severe or prolonged social and political dislocation have produced societal shock sufficiently disturbing to leave portions of the population vulnerable and open to messages and messengers who can explain their plight and rationalize their anxiety. They respond to and often place blind trust in leaders who provide them answers to their confusion and a sense of security that can resolve their stress. This can be as harmless as a feel-good preacher whose message acts as a palliative or it can be dangerous as in the many times in history when we have seen the emergence of leaders who prey on fear and vulnerability and foment division and anger and violence.

I know how this works and have studied it in other societies. I must confess, however, to being deeply distressed when I see it playing out in front of me. Intellectually I know what's going on, emotionally, I just can't.  And I worry. Because the divide—between those who believe that Trump will save us and those who are convinced he will bring us ruin—has grown so deep that even rational discussion has become impossible. 

 

   

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Jun 19th 2021
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Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
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May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
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May 13th 2021
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May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
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EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."