I have never seen this country more dangerously divided and possibly at the brink of serious violence.
Set the Civil War aside. I wasn’t around then, so I can only speak of the decades since World War II when I lived through the darkness of McCarthyism, blacklisting and the cold war–then the political and cultural divide brought on by the Civil Rights era and the Vietnam War. These times are worse.
It’s difficult to say whether Trump is the cause or symptom of it all, but he’s right there worsening the division– “The Unwinding” that George Packer wrote of.
Looking back to pre-Trump 2014 we saw a bunch of Nevada ranchers take up arms against the government to “protect” Cliven Bundy in his illegal dispute over federal grazing lands. His sons began another armed standoff last year. The feds wisely “de-escalated” what could have been a bloody confrontation, though one man was shot reaching for a gun. The rest of the Bundys were jailed.
Another brief episode where some protestors took up arms against the feds occurred when three U.S. busloads of undocumented persons were being brought across the California border. This defused quickly, but it again showed some citizens so alienated they’re ready for war against the federal government.
Those seemed to be isolated incidents. Then came Greg Gianforte’s body-slamming a reporter on the eve of being elected Montana’s congressman to the applause of many Trumpians. Add to this consistent reports of increased anti-black, anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic incidents since the Trump era began with his unsubtle calls to violence at rallies. Recently nooses were discovered at the new African American Heritage Museum on the DC Mall.
Now we learn through a lengthy piece in Saturday’s New York Times that there are numerous well-organized, all-white, right-wing “fight clubs” loyal to Trump who purport to be ready to battle protestors against Trump or Trumpian supporters such as Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos. Those groups under other circumstances would be called gangs–and in another era “brown shirts.” The Times bent over backwards to avoid calling them what they are.
Yes, there has been some violence generated by tiny left factions, many of whom like to call themselves “anarchists”–though one wonders whether these provocateurs ever read Bakunin or Emma Goldman. They have been a great help to Trump and if they get into any rumbles with the so-called alt-right gangs it will further redound to Trump’s benefit–just like comedian Kathy Griffin’s stupid stunt posing with a mock bloody Trump head.
It’s a cliché by now to note that the left-right divide in this country leaves little room for compromise or rational discourse. What concerns me at the moment is that we seem to be coming closer and closer to greater violence as these differences are exacerbated.
Donald Trump telling the rest of the world to go to hell by withdrawing from the Paris accords on climate change or suggesting we might not live up to all our responsibilities with NATO–all in the name of “America First”–deepens the divide and only makes things worse.
24 thoughts on “We’re Coming Apart at the Seams”
I really should write my own article on this topic, which I’d started researching before Trump’s Electoral College victory. Writing screenplays on spec sure can be a distraction, though. Oh well, one of these days. For now I will simply point out that we are up against the “spiritual” or “intellectual” (both terms are dicey in this context!!) children of Rush Limbaugh. We really have reached the point beyond the possibility of rational discourse on the issues of the times. Because everything these children “know” are the half-truths, distortions, historical myths and flat-out fabrications of Limbaugh and his ilk. To lay before them scientific facts about global climate change, to take one glaring example, is an utter waste of time and energy. It would be like trying to convince a True Believer in Hitler in 1939 that Germany’s woes did NOT stem from “the International Jew-Bolshevik Conspiracy”!!
This country’s political scene is beginning to take on aspects of the Weimar Republics street fighting between fascist gangs and communist agitators. We have some way to go yet but the similarities are frightening. Polarization in politics is nothing new but linked with an administration that is unapologetically authoritarian and whose head is a rabble-rousing populist one can’t help but feel apprehensive for the future. It seems apparent that our democracy has been slowly eroding over the years since it took Mr. Trump less than five months to bring the present situation to pass.
“It’s a cliché by now to note that the left-right divide in this country leaves little room for compromise or rational discourse.”
One might contemplate a contrasting perspective than the writer’s suggestion of inevitability, irreversible descending drift and impossibility regarding the left-right divide. Perhaps a clearer, more accurate picture or perspective by necessity includes all the room in the world for compromise, facilitated by long overdue rational discourse – the type sober, rare, extraordinary and powerful enough to meet or surpass the moral requirements of the times. Peace.
Jerry.. I don’t feel that the process is irreversible but I do feel that discourse has been made impossible by Trumps irrational appeal for personal allegence to him. I believe Steve’s reference to the “street fighting” which accompanied the rise of fascism in Germany is an appropriate observation..
History has shown that the rise of a authoritarian state can come about when the underlying economics of a country are not meeting the needs of the people and a charismatic leader ( often a narcissistic sociopath) is able to use simple solutions to complex problems and direct public anger at a group of people to blame he can destroy a democracy. This type of leader also appeals to the wealthy industrial class since they know he will suppress public dissent.. There is no room for “compromise” with this type of leaeder and his core followers.
Of course, the points you and the writer make are valid… The attempted point was simply that during times of extreme societal divisiveness it becomes necessary to raise the level of discourse or debate to a higher, much more powerful and truthful level which overcomes the source of the divisiveness. With such a distressing set of circumstances requiring resolution, it’s either sit on the sidelines and describe the problems – essentially becoming a whining, ineffective complainer in the process – or get down to the serious work and solve them. The comment was meant to inspire.
Jerry–I think most of us appreciated your effort to say that there’s still hope. We, if I may be so bold as to try to speak for others, simply recognize that the level of vitriol coming from the extreme right, with the mind control they’ve succeeded in imposing on so many of our fellow citizens (see Walter’s comment!), has rendered the notion of civil discourse pretty well dead and buried. This is reality as we perceive it. By no means do we “recommend” that any individual surrender all hope for a better future, or cease to struggle for same. That would play right into the hands of the enemies of a better future for us, the great majority of the human race. And these enemies MUST be toppled from their positions of power and control if humanity is to survive.
>>> “What concerns me at the moment is that we seem to be coming closer and closer to greater violence as these differences are exacerbated.”
Indeed. That concern is already widely felt and is becoming more and more prevalent.
I agree that the country is divided, but I’m not so sure that is a bad thing.
“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” Thomas Jefferson.
He was right. Some times a good slap in the face is necessary to get attention. Humans have evolved as violent, social animals. This is a fact, and it is in our DNA. Liberalism, as we know it today, is something new, a couple of hundred years old at most.
Although conservative tribalism is hardwired in us all, it can be modified over time into “a kinder, gentler” way for people to interact through cultural peer pressure. However, it is completely unrealistic to expect everyone to evolve into Mahatma Gandhi in such a short time. We are still just a few millennia from being upright apes. Of course, with a population of 7.5 billion and rising, humans don’t have a lot of time left.
I believe that both Libs and Cons need a good slap in the face to get their attention, to make it clear that we must work together for compromise, live together or die alone, so to speak. This is true for the US, the West, and the entire world. It just may require “a little rebellion…”, and it may just get a little nasty…, so be it. Another one of my favorites is “May you live in interesting times.” Confucious.
ps: I don’t think we have enough time. Artificial Intelligence will soon evolve to a point where it becomes self aware. When that happens the evolution of intelligence will reach a hocky-stick point of exponential growth. I can’t think of a reason why AI would decide that we humans are desirable competitors for their resources. Scientists and technologists will make it happen… because they can.
I am all for rebellion–against oppression. But if by “rebellion” you have in mind the xenophobic, openly racist “movement” that put Trump in office (by dint of the perverse institution called the Electoral College), count me out. I am a life-long “amateur” paleoanthropologist–one of the first books to grab me in my formative years was Robert Ardrey’s “African Genesis”–and I’ll make these observations: 1.) humans ARE apes (see “The Third Chimpanzee” by Dr. Jared Diamond), though our line of evolution diverged from those that led to the other chimp species [and per news just released today, “modern man” may date back at least 300,000 years]; 2.) Dr. Jane Goodall’s research revealed that the chimps of Central Africa occasionally commit against their own kind what we can only term murder, but it is relatively rare and their society is generally a quite cooperative one; 3.) Marx and Engels, long before the dawn of the Golden Age of anthropology, posited that cooperation was essential for early humans to survive their hostile environment; 4.) the tribe does appear to be the preferred size for social units in recent human social evolution, and it should be no surprise that cramming 20+ million humans (I believe this is the population of Mexico City) into a restricted space leads to social ills; 5.) tribalism CAN be overcome…it is not helpful, obviously, to have a POTUS who relishes stirring up hostility against “the other.”
I have no worries whatsoever about “the machines taking over” as Artificial Intelligence becomes more sophisticated. Unless the machines can be successfully programmed to hold Trumpian views!!
What’s striking to me is that people are creating — and living in — alternate realities. There’s always been a tension in the U.S. between Enlightenment values versus religious (mainly Christian) belief systems. But the gap between scientific fact versus religious faith seems to be ever widening. There’s no consensus on climate change, no consensus on evolution, as the faith crowd pushes back with denials. Meanwhile, violence is increasing, resentments are increasing, as the richest few take all they can get, in the name of “winning,” as symbolized by our current president.
Greed and ignorance, leavened with violence, are deadly to democracy. So many people are turning off and dropping out of political discourse, out of public life, that America is becoming impoverished at a communal level.
Can America be revived? Some respect for facts would help. For ethics and integrity as well. And, most of all, honesty. Americans need to move past their myths. We still are a rich and favored country. It’s high time we stop pissing it all away.
Bill–I think “…the gap between scientific fact versus religious faith seems to be ever widening” exaggerates the situation. I am confident that the great majority of people of faith recognize scientific reality. Religious extremists, on the other hand, have long denied scientific facts (while their overwhelming majority enjoy the advances made through science, of course). The problems arise when politicians and government officials craft public policy in order to win the votes of these extremists. Ergo, “Climate change is a hoax so we’re pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords.” A million “Christians” chanting in unison from coast to coast “The Earth and Universe were created in six days, 6,000 years ago” does not hurt us. Government policy crafted deliberately to further damage Earth’s global environment–how else can we describe the actions of the current US administration?–hurts every living being on the planet. The situation is indescribably appalling!
Bill and Greg,
The rabid right in the United States — probably after paying hired-gun word-magician Dr. Frank Lunz a hefty consulting fee — already won the political game for the Ruling Corporate Oligarchy when they conned the credulous American public into replacing the accurate term “global warming” with the innocuous and vapid euphemism “climate change.” The long-term problem facing humanity, if not all life on earth, stems from an increase in temperature (signified by the word “warming”) averaged over the entire world atmosphere (signified by the word “global”). Strictly speaking, the onset of a new ice age would signify a “change” in world-wide temperature, too, but ocean levels are not dropping and the polar glaciers and Greenland ice sheet are not accumulating more frozen water in the form of ice due to decreasing atmospheric temperatures. Just the opposite. In scientific jargon, the word “warming” constitutes a vector, in that it specifies the direction of temperature change, in this case, “getting hotter.” The word “change,” on the other hand, has no direction at all, and really means nothing whatsoever, as intended.
In a similar fashion, the term “global” (as noted above) refers to the entire earth, whereas “climate” refers to weather patterns in a specific region or locality. Insinuating that the problem, if any, only affects local weather patterns and not the entire earth serves the subversive linguistic purpose of making a world-wide disaster seem little more than isolated, local inconveniences. The corporate fossil-fuel producing-and-using industries paid some very good money to have persons who know their Orwell invent deliberately deceptive language — i.e., “climate change” — that literally destroys precision and accuracy in thinking, for numerous and obvious reasons of economic self-interest.
As you both know, the problem of global warming arises from increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, gases produced as a byproduct of human industrial activity. These gases allow the radiant energy from the sun to enter the global atmosphere but prevent the resultant heat from escaping back into space. As a result of this phenomena, global temperatures do not just increase, but increase at an increasing rate. A minimally educated American population would easily understand this, but America does not have an educational system that minimally educates its people. This has not happened by accident. The Ruling Corporate Oligarchy wants docile, compliant consumers, not a scientifically competent citizenry. Replacing precise language with vapid euphemisms accomplishes this objective with almost laughable ease.
So please allow me to beat this dead horse one more time by insisting that — at a minimum — we resume using the term “global warming,” if not “global overheating,” instead of that other worthless phrase designed by our corporate overseers to muddle our thinking so as to make rational decision-making about our common future impossible.
Mike–Of course you are correct about the origin of the problem. But I embrace the phrase “climate change” (though my personal preference is the more dramatic “global climate chaos”) because global warming produces a plethora of weather problems, including unusually cold spells in some regions/seasons. (The fact that idiots seize on the latter phenomenon to proclaim “See, the Earth isn’t really warming at all!” is quite beyond my control.) The enemy is not bandying about the phrase “climate change”; the enemy DENIES anything unusual is going on globally. The media have shortened the stance of the enemy camp to simply “climate denial.” Again, beyond my control, old chap. I do not feel in the least that I am lending any aid or comfort to the enemy by employing the phrase “climate change.”
I went to some trouble to express myself precisely, Greg. If, for your part, you wish to speak “dramatically,” about “chaos” and “change,” then you have every right to do that. I sure hope for your sake, though, that your home thermostat does not contain settings expressed in those terms. For me, scientific problems like global warming, or planetary atmospheric overheating do not admit of solutions when people speak of them in vague and emotionally laden terminology.
Apropos of the present subject, I know where such deliberately vapid euphemisms like “climate change” originate. I even bought a book on the subject by the rabid corporate lizard-linguist, Dr Frank Luntz, entitled, Words that work: It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear. I hated to spend the money and hated even worse the thought of whose pockets would eventually contain my paltry pennies, but as the Godfather advised: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” The closer I get to my linguistic enemy, Dr. Frank Luntz, the more my skin crawls; but sometimes it simply pays to know the devil with whom you have to deal. I have no doubt but that the phrase “climate change” originated with either him or someone just like him. Think, “Death Tax” instead of the actually existing Estate Tax. Think, “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” instead of my own concoction: “Sewer Boat Sailors for Slander.” I disagree entirely with Frank Luntz, in that I believe we should all think of what we wish to say and then say it in the most accurate and descriptive language possible, as George Orwell advised. Dr Luntz, however, believes that people do things for reasons about which they have no awareness and so he only needs to know what subliminal linguistic buttons to push to get the unthinking response that his corporate clients want. I explained all this above and won’t repeat it here.
I only have to take responsibility for what I say and the way I say it. Other people can choose to hear something that I don’t mean, but I have no responsibility for what other people choose to hear. If they choose to hear nothing because that requires less effort than thinking about what I actually said, then that has nothing to do with me. Personally, I refuse to passively receive and credulously repeat lizard-language handouts from Dr. Frank Luntz on behalf of his corporate clients. But, hey, if “drama” and “chaos” and “change” do it for you, instead of carbon-dioxide concentrations in measured parts per million, then go for it, man. Just don’t attempt to design a thermostat based on those “dramatic” principles.
Mike–I stand by my previous comments steadfastly. Global warming is the EFFECT of human activity on the planet’s environment, and it is the chief CAUSE of Global Climate Chaos. Going forward, “Chaos” will need to be replaced by “Catastrophic Calamities”–already not an overstatement for certain points on the planet–to the tragic detriment of us all.
My tactic is to use both terms: global warming and climate change.
Honestly, I never thought the USA would abdicate its leadership in the realm of science. Yet here we are, with official government web sites removing anything dealing with global warming/climate change, and with funding being cut to examine its predicted course and impact.
You gents probably caught Macron’s speech in which he invited American climate scientists to take refuge in France. It reminded me of the days when America was a land of refuge for scientists fleeing oppression, whether from the Nazis or from Communism or whatever. Those were the days!
On the subject of lizard-language euphemisms deliberately designed to mean absolutely nothing concrete at all, this just in from the Senate testimony of former FBI head James Comey [excerpted from The Duran]
[Comey] stunned the Senate, when he said that President Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch asked him to downplay the Hillary Clinton’s email scandal…
Comey said Lynch instructed Comey not to call the criminal investigation into the Clinton server a criminal investigation. Instead, Lynch told Comey to call it a “matter,” Comey said, “which confused me.”
Comey cited that pressure from Lynch to downplay the investigation as one of the reasons he held a press conference to recommend the Department of Justice not seek to indict Clinton.
Oh, yes! Don’t call it an “investigation,” call it a “matter.” Why not just call it “stuff”?
You really can’t make up shit like this. What next: an “overseas contingency operation” instead of the actual — and abysmally failed — Global War on Terror? President Trump will really have to outdo himself if he thinks he can coin more vapid and meaningless euphemisms than President Obama.
In other words, something from a decade ago, still relevant today (and two U.S. presidents later):
Boobie Susceptibility to Word Magic
(from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)
The Boobies of the U.S.A.
Like Boobies everywhere
Lend magical significance
To noises in the air:
Those mere sonic vibrations that
Intimidate and scare
This fact is never lost upon
The fascists who delight
In fanning flames of ignorance
And generating fright
With just a whispered “boo” spoke in
The darkness of the night
This makes the Boobie Democrats
So easy to unhinge
Confronted with an unkind word
They hunker down and cringe
Which sets the right-wing goons off on
Another hateful binge
As Munich taught us long ago
You cannot compromise
With fascist appetites that know
No limit to their size
A fact that weak democracies
Tend not to realize
Yet fascism comes not at once
But takes time to appear
Long years of preparation lie
Behind the bogus fear
Before it rots the brain its lies
Must enter in the ear
So fascists set about the task
Of breeding hapless herds
That stampede at the slightest sound
Of siren singing turds
Who lie in perfect harmony:
In octaves, fifths, and thirds
Most people with an ounce of spine
(unlike the frightened birds)
Need sticks and stones to break their bones
But Boobies just need words
Like “Sunnis” or like “Muslims” or
Like “Shiites” or like “Kurds”
It doesn’t even matter if
The words make any sense
In fact, the less the better what
With Boobie minds so dense
That cannot now discriminate
The past from present tense
“I’m so like, ‘hot’,” we hear it said
By Boobie Barbie Doll
Who tells her friends of her last trip
Down to the shopping mall
To buy a porno webcam for
Her bathroom toilet stall
“I’m so ‘way cool’,” the fanboy crows
About his comic books
Wherein a Batman bashes lots
Of super-villain crooks
While folks pass by the maimed G.I.
And no one even looks
“But we’re at war!” our leaders bray,
“And all must play their part!”
So just make sure you overfill
Your brimming shopping cart,
And leave no credit card uncharged
Lest we forget the art
And do not fail to buy more of
Those yellow magnet strips
That show how you “support the troops”
And all their blood that drips
While you craft empty slogans bland
And spout them from your lips
How easy fascist lives can get
When all they have to do
Is blow some smoke into your face
No matter how untrue
(About brainwashing Boobies they
Sure know a thing or two)
It takes no creativity
It hardly takes a thought
To nail you like a dazzled deer
Within the headlights caught
Just coin a neologism
And you’ll buy what you ought
You’ve played their game so long that they’ve
Grown lazy from the ease
With which a pair of syllables
Can cause you all to freeze:
Some “centrist” Democrats adrift
In your own hot air breeze
They’ve made a cottage industry
Of running from the blame
But you’ll just let them off the hook
If they call you a name
You cannot really fault them for
Considering you tame
The president’s Rasputin Rove
Has once again come through:
His pudgy face and double chin
Have struck dumb fear in you
So now you trot out Evan Bayh
To bad mouth his own view
You make up sad excuses both
So lengthy and so lame
For running from us “liberals”
Who proudly keep the flame
Live down the libel, if you dare,
Or live up to our name
Republicans have shot their wad
And wandered off the path
They read their Fortune magazines
And seethe in righteous wrath
Till mommy calls out “time for bed”
And draws their nightly bath
Too bad their rubber duck has drowned
But mommy hears their cries
And comes on call to gently wipe
The soap out of their eyes
With fresh pajamas, too, now cleaned
Of grease from “freedom fries”
The cakewalk war has dragged along
And left Bush in a bind
What does he call a strife begun
Because he’d lost his mind?
(With G.I.s who’ve lost both their eyes
Condemned to lifetimes blind)
He launched this war at first, of course,
To fake an image strong
But then he screwed the pooch so bad
He wound up looking wrong
He once called it “accomplished” now
He only calls it “long”
Another sprint has turned into
A journey without end
A mindless marathon without
A way to fix or mend
Which Bush cannot conclude due to
The message it would send
For peace would bring a summing up;
A tally of the cost
To weigh against an empty dream
The treasure that we’ve lost
Our blood and lives and money froze
Beneath Forever’s frost
A chest which does not rise or fall;
A heart which does not beat;
A missing breath; a mirthless smile;
A body without heat:
A life at last confronted with
A death it cannot cheat.
Wide eyes that stare off into space
And yet which cannot see
A soul passed now beyond this world
A grim reminder of Death’s work
From which we cannot flee
No one comes back who’s gone that way.
On that we can agree.
So here’s a name that you should learn:
It’s called “finality.”
Once chance has passed, we cannot know
What those lost lives could be.
No bargains with death can we strike;
No deals to buy more time.
We’ll have to pay the piper now
For singing his mad rhyme,
Or else we’ll never live to know
A quiet peace sublime.
But anyway the time has come,
Or so the Walrus said,
To speak of shoes and sealing wax,
And boiling seas ahead;
And truth about a moron king
With cabbage for his head.
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006
Mike: that’s an interesting idea — our wars go on forever, so they’ll never be a day of reckoning when we honestly and forthrightly face the terrible costs of them. That they were and are well and truly lost is avoided because they never end, thus suggesting some kind of “win” in the future. Maybe 2117?
You can’t do a wrong thing the right way …
Poor Comey was confused, eh? Not confused enough to not know what to do with the “downplay”. No, you can’t make this shit up.
Sorry there’s not a reply button to your post at 1:10 PM. Really appreciate the precision. As to your 2:49 PM post, the “Sewer Boat Sailors for Slander” is very good and a like the way you lace your take on Luntzy Baby with humor as well…makes my skin crawl too.
The left began its capture of our system of higher education during and after the Vietnam War. Now we see that capture consolidated and bleeding over into all aspects of American culture. As for global warming, the farm my wife and I bought many years ago used to be under ice. Sure glad it warmed up enough to allow productive agriculture. The old place feeds its share of hungry humans.
Thanks for your brilliant contribution to the conversation, Walter!
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