A nation divided

A nation divided
Phillip Downey/File

I’ve never written a commentary piece before. I’ve never written about politics. I’m probably not any more qualified to reflect on President Trump’s first year in office than your “Uncle Mark” with all those long-winded Facebook posts: “I don’t usually post, but I feel like I can’t stay silent anymore …” Well, your opinionated uncle and I may have more in common than you think. For whatever reason, I feel the need to speak out. I don’t have any profound wisdom to offer, or a bumper sticker resolution about trying to “figure this shit out together, man.” But I would like to reflect — for me.

For starters, I don’t particularly want to talk about “The Donald.” I don’t want to talk about his cult of personality, his decorum or his actions in office. The man himself is covered on a daily basis: If you want any retrospection on President Trump, read any edition of any news publication from the last year. I will also not speak about his rise to power and eventual victory in the 2016 election. I think Stephen Hawking put it best when he described President Trump with a simple but poignant phrase: “He is a demagogue.” Instead, I want to describe Trump’s reflection, otherwise known as the people of the United States. For better or for worse, he is the president of the United States, so whether he is #yourpresident or not, we are his mirror. And like the bathroom vanity of a pubescent teen, Trump’s mirror is screaming words of staunch encouragement one second and raging against deep-seated national insecurities the next.

But what does all his vocalization say about us? It certainly says we have differences. Data from political scientists Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal reveal that political parties in the United States after Trump’s election were as polarized as they were during the buildup to the Civil War. And this moves past Democrats and Republicans. Other voices have formed as well. Conservatives has gone so far beyond themselves — they have created an alternative to their traditional values of individualism through work, “country first” and fiscal responsibility.

“But what does all his vocalization say about us? It certainly says we have differences.”

The “alt-right” movement is giving a literal megaphone to nationalist anxieties. It is represented by a group whose actions and rhetoric have displaced traditional Republican beliefs in economic opportunity through self-perseverance and has co-opted them to create a new, warped agenda. The alt-right’s take on the conservative agenda is only concerned with protecting the opportunities of its own members, with total disregard for any American citizens who its movement may disenfranchise. Its words, implications and resolutions are often racist and deeply harmful. The worst members of its ranks have even managed to give a new voice to fascism in events such as those in Charlottesville, Virginia. The alt right’s disregard for the sovereignty of other citizens has revealed its movement for what it is: a movement of “us versus them.”

It is almost ironic, then, that a group whose doctrine is “anti-everybody else” has prompted a response from liberals who labels themselves “Antifa,” or anti-fascist. Antifa has become notorious for its black bloc protesting tactics, nigh promotion of anarchy and destruction of public property, largely on our own UC Berkeley campus. The violent nature of its resistance tactics are uncharacteristic of its cause. Resistance to new policies, racist institutions and new presidents has traditionally been characterized by the peaceful nature of the protests.

“Yet, the rhetoric of both of these groups are focused on the extremes of the spectrum.”

All this considered, I don’t mean to wag a holier than thou finger at anyone whose background and situation in this country has forced them to fight. I am certainly someone who has been nothing but enfranchised and supported by this country’s formal and social institutions. I just feel that it is important to note that Trump’s time in office has created an atmosphere in which members of the far left and right may turn to violence.

Yet, the rhetoric of both of these groups are focused on the extremes of the spectrum. It is also important to note the changing vernacular used by citizens in the middle of conversation.

Recently, the focus of the national conversation has been redirected by small, decentralized movements led by renewed voices for change in the United States. The Women’s Marches gave a voice to a brand-new generation of feminists. And while the current administration still threatens any and all progress made in support of Planned Parenthood and other organizations created to aid the protection of rights specific to American women, the movement has started a discussion with far-reaching implications — most recently, the “#MeToo” movement on Twitter subsequent to the public ousting of Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator and scumbag. It serves as a hopeful reminder that in the midst of so much national uncertainty, there are voices willing and able to promote positive change. A group of women who have steered the conversation as to say: “We will not put up with the violence and the bullshit any longer.”

This is not the only major change brought to the national discussion either, as only a few years ago, the Black Lives Matter movement was a small, decentralized group of citizens struggling to have their voices heard. Now, they are not only a well-known organization, but also, targeted police brutality against Black Americans has been brought to the forefront of the nation’s discourse. The current administration may not offer any support nor openly consider the problem with the legal system BLM has brought to light, but people are beginning to notice. For evidence, you need look no further than the NFL. Football players choosing to kneel during the national anthem to display solidarity with those marginalized by U.S. institutions has become a massive controversy in the past few months. The league’s protest also marks the first time there has been a major protest in any U.S. professional sport. This is bringing all kinds of new, national and televised attention, both good and bad, to a movement that was essentially started by a guerrilla activist group only a few years ago. True, lasting change may be very far away, but the conversation has officially began.

These are not the only topics of the current cross country dialogues, for there are many other ongoing conversations taking place, ranging from the validity of civil rights for immigrants to the definition of free speech. All of these conversations, mentioned above or otherwise, represent the sound and the fury of a nation screaming for change. Trump’s reflection is angry, confused, and wanting.

This is not the first time the United States has found itself at such a crossroads.

“Hopefully, history doesn’t repeat itself.”

Going forward, the optimist in me has hope that people will choose the correct path. Hopefully, history doesn’t repeat itself. Hopefully, violence and internal turmoil can be vanquished with tangible change. Hopefully, when history reflects on the bizarre and confounding nature of the current executive branch, Trump will be remembered not as the straw that broke the camel’s back, but as the catalyst that encouraged the nation to stand divided, so it could learn how to come back together again.

Contact AJ Newcomb at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ajnewcombDC.