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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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."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
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Mar 1st 2021
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Feb 28th 2021
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Feb 23rd 2021
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Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
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Feb 11th 2021
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Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "