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Carlos Lozada, “The united hates of America,” Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2020 https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/10/30/polarization-books-trump-election/.
Carlos Lozada is WaPo’s nonfiction book review editor
[…] The growing polarization of the United States into a nation torn by partisan identities is one of the legacies of the Trump presidency, even if it began long ago. What Bill Bishop, writing in the 2000s, called “The Big Sort” was a decades-long process of clustering by geography, income and culture, producing homogenous enclaves with self-reinforcing and mutually opposing worldviews. Only under President Trump, however, did polarization morph into an overt campaigning and governing strategy, one the country has fully embraced as party affiliation increasingly tracks divides of culture and religion, race and place. Here, there are no win-win outcomes. Each camp finds vindication in the struggles of its rival, preferring results that are worse for all if they manage to boost the home team’s relative advantage and magnify the differences between the sides.
We’re way past bowling alone; now, we’re grabbing that bowling ball and looking for something to smash.
A decade after Bishop’s work, multiple volumes in the Trump years have chronicled America’s descent into this negative partisanship, a condition in which opposition overwhelms affirmation. Recent books such as Lilliana Mason’s “Uncivil Agreement,” Amy Chua’s “Political Tribes,” Ezra Klein’s “Why We’re Polarized,” David French’s “Divided We Fall” and Pete Buttigieg’s “Trust” — and that is just a sampling of the subgenre — explain how the adjective in “United States” has come to seem aspirational, even vestigial. “More than simply disagreeing, Democrats and Republicans are feeling like very different kinds of people,” Mason writes, while French worries that our very political and geographic union can no longer be taken for granted.
The authors hazard proposals for how to break free from this cycle in which a polarized electorate compels politicians to campaign in more polarized ways, thus entrenching voters even further. Above all, many urge a restoration of citizenship as an overriding American identity, even as they recognize the difficulty of getting there when the gaps between us are enduring and expanding. And the popular, political and intellectual fixation on Trump himself — and the divisions he so relishes and deepens — may make it harder still. In a country where virtually all have lined up either as Trump’s resistance or his base, it seems almost countercultural to suggest that these are not our only options, that this man need not remain the sole reference point defining us.
“Today, no group in America feels comfortably dominant,” Chua warns. “Every group feels attacked, pitted against other groups not just for jobs and spoils but for the right to define the nation’s identity. In these conditions, democracy devolves into zero-sum group competition.”
It can be the fear of losing status in the face of the country’s racial and demographic transformations; or it can be the anger at never receiving enough status to avoid the threat of harm, harassment, even death at the hands of an unfair justice system. The cultural and political trenches of the Trump years — whether #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, the resurgence of racist forces, or the horrors at the southern border — all intensify the sense of identity, Klein contends, of belonging to one camp and confronting the other. “There is nothing that makes us identify with our groups so strongly as the feeling that the power we took for granted may soon be lost or the injustices we’ve long borne may soon be rectified,” he writes.
In his 2016 campaign, Trump was “a master marketer who astutely read the market,” in Klein’s words, but he did not have to be the one to serve it. “Eventually, someone was going to come along and give the Republican base what they wanted,” Klein writes. And Trump has done it again in his latest campaign, running not on a proposed second-term agenda (he has none) but, in the words of National Review’s Rich Lowry, as a crude insult to the cultural left. “To put it in blunt terms, for many people, he’s the only middle finger available,” Lowry writes.
Rich Lowry, “The Only Middle Finger Available,” National Review, Oct. 26, 2020 https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/10/the-only-middle-finger-available/
Lede: If Donald Trump wins a second term, it will be an unmistakable countercultural statement in a year when progressives have otherwise worked their will across the culture.
After months and months of statues toppling and riots in American cities and a crime wave and woke virtue-signaling from professional sports leagues and absurd firings and cancellations, the year would end with a stunning, stark rebuke of all of that.
If Trump manages to pull off an upset in 2020, it will be as a gigantic rude gesture directed at the commanding heights of American culture.
Besides the occasional dissenting academic and brave business owner or ordinary citizen, Trump is, for better or worse, the foremost symbol of resistance to the overwhelming woke cultural tide that has swept along the media, academia, corporate America, Hollywood, professional sports, the big foundations, and almost everything in between.
He’s the vessel for registering opposition to everything from the 1619 Project to social media’s attempted suppression of the Hunter Biden story.
To put it in blunt terms, for many people, he’s the only middle finger available — to brandish against the people who’ve assumed they have the whip hand in American culture.
This may not be a very good reason to vote for a president, and it doesn’t excuse Trump’s abysmal conduct and maladministration.
It may well be that Biden will get over the top by implicitly promising a diminution in cultural strife, by which he presumably means a slower pace of woke cultural change (with the Left considerably less agitated than it has been in the Trump years).
If Trump wins, though, this cultural element will be the subtext, and maybe just the text — he’d be, even more so than now, the president as affront, and he would be felt as such by all the woke progressives and fellow travelers who are accustomed to believing that they represent a steamroller of history.