A Divided Country
“I honestly can’t say I know any institution that is working,” said Aalayah Eastmond, 19, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., massacre and a first-time voter who has spent much of the year in Washington protesting racism and police violence. “But one thing I do know that is working is the power of the people.”
How much of the recent past can be undone, and how much the electorate wants it undone, is a question no campaign can resolve in full. There is danger in any sweeping assertion about the ideals of a country that narrowly chose to follow its first Black president with the man who pushed a racist conspiracy about that president’s birthplace.
But in some ways, given the distinctiveness of the choices, the decision in this election will be especially revealing about how America sees itself and what it expects of its leaders.
In interviews this fall, voters supporting each candidate described fears that the nation would soon appear unrecognizable to them, if it was not already. This campaign, they suggested, had doubled as a national X-ray, with both sides distressed about what might turn up on the scan.
“You learn a lot about yourself and other people and the country,” said Luke Hoffman, 36, standing outside the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in a “Vote” mask before a recent televised forum with Mr. Biden. “The sheer polarization is terrifying.”
Katherine Smarch, 51, who traveled to Lansing, Mich., to see Eric Trump speak at a gravel pit last month, said that any pro-Trump sentiment she might express on social media was doomed to be met with taunting and hostility.
“It just feels so foreign,” she said. “This is the kind of thing that happens in a foreign country.”
Mr. Trump also understands well that many millions of people are with him, win or lose, holding him up as the figure girding the nation against would-be decline and leftward creep.
Mr. Trump also understands well that many millions of people are with him, win or lose, holding him up as the figure girding the nation against would-be decline and leftward creep.
“We didn’t vote for him to be our pastor or our husband,” said Penny Nance, the chief executive of Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian group. “We voted for him to be our bodyguard.”
That’s a great comment, that Nance one, and it perfectly captures how a lot of us feel, even if we didn’t vote for Trump. I think it is very, very difficult for people on the Left to understand why we on the Right feel so threatened by them. They control all the heights of the culture, and even that is not enough for them. What is so bizarre is how they cannot imagine how they are perceived by so many of us. The progressive writer Jesse Singal gets it:
This Washington Post analysis of polarization frames it primarily as something Donald Trump created, and that Republican voters exacerbate. Quote:
Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher attributed the divide to more-sinister forces.
“Let’s stop pretending that it’s ‘economic anxiety,’ ” Belcher said. “That ugliness is about tribalism. . . . Many of the most hotly contested states are ground zero of the [demographic] changes happening in America: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan. Where this battle is hottest is where diversity is greatest.”
Is it “ugliness” when the progressive tribe turns on non-progressive whites, on religious conservatives, and on racial minorities or gays who don’t happen to be progressive? This is the thing that just drives me nuts about our journalistic and professional classes: they take their own view of the world as normative, and any deviation from it as evidence of wickedness.
Even if Joe Biden prevails against Mr. Trump, the margin of his victory is likely to be narrower than polls suggested and Democratic officials hoped. In some key states, the president was able to turn out white, rural areas in higher numbers than in 2016. Republican strategists say Democrats lost ground with these households not just on policy but also culturally, citing what GOP voters consider culture wars over political speech and social issues.
“It really is reflective of the transformative nature of the Trump presidency,” said Charlie Gerow, a longtime GOP strategist based in Pennsylvania. He described a fundamental shift within the party, toward more support from working-class Americans, particularly whites, and less emphasis on winning over elites, including in suburban areas.
Trump voters were less likely than Biden voters to say racism was a serious issue in policing, or to say the criminal justice system needs an overhaul or major changes. When asked how serious a problem racism was in American society, 54% of Trump voters said it was very or somewhat serious, compared with 96% of Biden voters.
Still, 88% of Trump voters cited the protests over police violence as a factor in their voting decision.
House Republican leaders on Wednesday reveled in the effectiveness of their messaging tying Democrats to calls by progressive activists and some lawmakers to defund police departments.
National Republican Committee Chairman Tom Emmer (R., Minn.) said GOP attacks against Democrats over defunding was effective “everywhere that it was used.” He added: “You can’t equivocate. You either support the men and women of law enforcement or you don’t.”
Some Democrats acknowledged the strategy had worked. “I think the defund the police issue hurt a lot of our candidates,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D., Ohio), who said Democrats in his state lost after facing attacks over the topic.
Law and order is so fundamental to the conservative stance towards the world. Had the BLM protests not been violent, they would not have stoked the Right so much. This is something that progressives deeply need to understand. On the Right, it’s not reaction against racial justice protests; it’s reaction against violence, and the justification of the violence we heard from many on the Left in the media. Joe Biden’s criticism of the protesters did not ring true.
One of this blog’s readers is a foreign student spending this academic year in a major American university in the Midwest. He told me that his university is a left-wing bubble, but on the occasion that he has gotten outside of it, he’s discovering a different America. He mentioned a conversation he had with a black female woman who works with the poor. She told the student that she was planning to vote for Trump. This surprised him; he thought all black people hated Trump. She told him that she was sick and tired of the Democrats’ idea that everything that’s wrong with the poor is society’s fault. This is not what she sees with her own eyes, in her work.
Writing in The Atlantic, the liberal George Packer is bereft by the fact that after four years of Trump, so many Americans were willing to vote for him. After wailing and gnashing his teeth, Packer finally says:
But the composition of Trump’s followers, with a large minority of Latino voters and a nontrivial number of Black voters, makes their motivations more various and complicated than the single, somehow reassuring cause that progressives settled on after 2016: racism. There turn out to be many different reasons different kinds of people want to fling themselves at the feet of a con man. The votes show that progressives’ habit of seeing Americans as molecules dissolved in vast and undifferentiated ethnic and racial solutions without individual agency is both analytically misleading and politically self-defeating, doing actual harm to the cause of equality.
Many of the most influential journalists and pollsters continue to fail to understand how most of their compatriots think, even as these experts spend ever more of their time talking with one another on Twitter and in TV studios. The local and regional newspapers around the country that could fill in the picture of who we are with more granular human detail continue to die out. All of us, professionals and otherwise, are to some extent prisoners of impermeable information chambers, in which the effort to grasp contrary narratives is morally suspect.
Why does Packer believe that the disappearance of local newspapers is contributing to this phenomenon? When I worked at The Dallas Morning News from 2003-2009, the few of us at the paper who identified as conservative joked constantly about how skewed to the left our paper was, and how most of its reporters and editors cared about people like us only insofar as we were a problem to be solved. And this, mind you, was in a very red state! When I worked in the mid-1990s at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, it was a similar deal. I once argued (in a friendly way) with our newsroom’s diversity coordinator, who was so proud of the fact that we had a good balance of men and women, Latinos, blacks, whites, etc.
“Yeah,” I said, “and everybody went to the same universities and has the same opinions about politics and culture.” I pointed out that there were a fair number of Pentecostals in south Florida, but the only Pentecostals in the newsroom were black secretaries. The point is that “diversity,” as conceived by the Left, is almost always a sham.
Reading Packer, it seems that he still cannot wrap his mind around why any sane person would vote for Donald Trump. This is more a fault with Packer than with Trump voters — though he’s right to point out that there are nuts in the GOP coalition:
There’s nothing remotely comparable to QAnon in the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake for Democrats who proudly believe in climate science and counting every vote to imagine that they are immune to the distorting effects of information technology and hyperpolarization. Having a basically sane worldview can make it harder to detect the creeping influence of self-delusion. How many people do you know who refused to believe that Trump could win a fair election? Antisocial media has us all in its grip.
I would like to direct George Packer back to the incredible story he wrote in The Atlantic about “the progressive dystopia of New York City public schools.” (I’m linking to the blog post I did at the time; I don’t want to use up my limited number of free stories at The Atlantic.) It’s a story about how he and his wife — good urban liberals — got mugged by destructive wokeness in their kids’ public schools. He wrote:
Around 2014, a new mood germinated in America—at first in a few places, among limited numbers of people, but growing with amazing rapidity and force, as new things tend to do today. It rose up toward the end of the Obama years, in part out of disillusionment with the early promise of his presidency—out of expectations raised and frustrated, especially among people under 30, which is how most revolutionary surges begin. This new mood was progressive but not hopeful. A few short years after the teachers at the private preschool had crafted Obama pendants with their 4-year-olds, hope was gone.
At the heart of the new progressivism was indignation, sometimes rage, about ongoing injustice against groups of Americans who had always been relegated to the outskirts of power and dignity. An incident—a police shooting of an unarmed black man; news reports of predatory sexual behavior by a Hollywood mogul; a pro quarterback who took to kneeling during the national anthem—would light a fire that would spread overnight and keep on burning because it was fed by anger at injustices deeper and older than the inflaming incident. Over time the new mood took on the substance and hard edges of a radically egalitarian ideology.
At points where the ideology touched policy, it demanded, and in some cases achieved, important reforms: body cameras on cops, reduced prison sentences for nonviolent offenders, changes in the workplace. But its biggest influence came in realms more inchoate than policy: the private spaces where we think and imagine and talk and write, and the public spaces where institutions shape the contours of our culture and guard its perimeter.
Who was driving the new progressivism? Young people, influencers on social media, leaders of cultural organizations, artists, journalists, educators, and, more and more, elected Democrats. You could almost believe they spoke for a majority—but you would be wrong. An extensive survey of American political opinion published last year by a nonprofit called More in Common found that a large majority of every group, including black Americans, thought “political correctness” was a problem. The only exception was a group identified as “progressive activists”—just 8 percent of the population, and likely to be white, well educated, and wealthy. Other polls found that white progressives were readier to embrace diversity and immigration, and to blame racism for the problems of minority groups, than black Americans were. The new progressivism was a limited, mainly elite phenomenon.
Politics becomes most real not in the media but in your nervous system, where everything matters more and it’s harder to repress your true feelings because of guilt or social pressure. It was as a father, at our son’s school, that I first understood the meaning of the new progressivism, and what I disliked about it.
If you read Packer’s story, you’ll see that he concludes that the new progressivism is destroying these schools as well as the foundations of liberal democracy. And yet, here he is two days after the election, flabbergasted as to why anybody voted for Trump!
Maybe, George, they voted for Trump because they see him as their bodyguard. Liberals like you haven’t stopped the woke crazies. How can anybody possibly think Joe Biden can?
By the way, when I posted that piece about the Packer story in September 2019, a black reader sent in this response:
I am a product of NYC public schools and even though I live in DC now, I’m disgusted by what DeBlasio, Carranza, and the Grievance Industrial Complex in education are doing to the school system. My parents came here from the Caribbean and were fortunate enough to get me into a gifted program (another thing those two are trying to destroy)–a foundation that laid the path for a solid K-12 education. The worst part of this story is that it’s not just a New York problem. The same militant wokeness can be seen in DC’s government and public charter schools. You see it in the desperate push for “diversity” above achievement, as if black kids need white classmates more than quality schools. I don’t know how the Left can see a black girl in 12th grade at an all-black high school as being subjected to the evil forces of segregation but celebrate her acceptance into Spelman College or Howard University as an opportunity for a culturally-enriching education experience.
The biggest threat, however, is in the curriculum. For example, the DC Educators for Social Justice supports the early education curriculum includes having pre-schoolers watch a video from I am Jazz and teaches THREE YEAR OLDS the meaning of “non-binary” and “transgender”. And here’s the thing, this ideology is smuggled in through the front door during Black Lives Matter at Schools Week. Most people think of BLM as being against police violence directed at African Americans but the words “police” and “brutality” don’t appear once in any of their 13 principles. You know what else doesn’t? “Father”, “husband”, or “son”. In fact, here’s the text of BLM’s “Black Villages” principle:
“We are committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, and especially “our” children to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable.”
Is this what anybody thinks of when they hear the proverb about taking a village to raise a child? And does anyone think that the biggest problem in the black community is TOO MANY nuclear families? This stuff is desperately wicked. And not a single person I’ve talked to about it (and there have been many, lol) even knew that BLM had 13 principles, let alone their content. I fear for the state of public education in our country, especially in large urban school districts. I finally see why many Christians have such deep skepticism of “government schools”. And in cities like NYC and DC where the majority of black students are doing math and English below grade level, why does anyone think a second of school time should be spent reading A is For Activist? What good is teaching Jamal to be a protestor if he has to go to Brad to write his signs?
One thing I do not get about the Republican Party: why are they so damned afraid to openly and directly criticize wokeness? It’s like they have accepted the media’s narrative that to be against this stuff is to out yourself as a bigot.
Anyway, the cognitive dissonance between the George Packer who can write with admirable honesty about how wokeness is destroying public schooling in his city, and the George Packer who is poleaxed by the lack of a Biden landslide, tells you something about the blindness of the leadership class. Along those lines, do you remember the big NYT podcast by Chana Joffe-Walt, titled “Nice White Parents,” from this summer? In it, she talks about race in the NYC public school system. Her basic point is that white parents are to blame for de facto school segregation. I’m not going to go back into the piece now, but I want to point out that at no point in the five-part series did she mention the black anti-Semitism that came forth in the 1968 NYC teacher’s strike. How can you tell the story of race and white flight in the NYC public schools without bringing up that? You can if the story you want to tell is one of white guilt.
This is the only story of America that progressives have to tell, or so it seems. This was not the story of America that Barack Obama told. This country elected a black man president, twice. You think that suddenly we quit being that kind of country? Packer is right: something changed in this country in 2013, 2014.
Look, it’s not just the Left. I get that. You should see some of the comments that I send straight to the trash, from people on the Right who accuse me of all kinds of things because I’m not 100 percent aboard the Trump Train. But the Left, which controls the public discourse, and shapes it to its standards, has made it increasingly impossible for people to express difference, or doubt, in good faith.
The question the Left can’t ask itself: What is wrong with us that even after four years of Donald Trump, so many Americans — even minorities — voted for him?
Last point. A couple of weeks ago, I was up in my rural hometown buying chicken feed for our hens. As I was checking out at the tractor supply, I saw a very old white man toddling into the store on a walker. He looked to be World War II veteran age. He had a patriotic mask on and a red MAGA hat. His voice was so weak that the checkout clerk couldn’t hear what he was saying through his mask. Finally someone in line interpreted it for her: he wanted to know where he could find brackets to mount his flagpole on his front porch. It was like something out of a Spielberg movie — but of course you would never see anyone wearing a MAGA hat in a Hollywood movie, except as a villain.
I don’t even know who that old man was — his mask covered most of his face — but he loves his country, and wanted to fly the flag. Not a Trump flag — the American flag. Now, consider Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, the founder of The 1619 Project, which teaches that America was founded in iniquity: for the sake of preserving slavery. It’s factually untrue, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s legitimately contestable. This narrative has become standard in American media, and among many progressives. Can you imagine someone who believes what Nikole Hannah-Jones does wanting to fly the American flag from their front porch?
If not, then what does that tell you about why so many Americans chose to vote for Trump, despite his many grievous faults?
We are going to remain a divided country. The election solved nothing. The idea, though, that if only we could have gotten rid of Donald Trump, then things would heal, was always an absurd fantasy. We are a divided country because we have lost the core narratives that bound us: a shared Christian faith (however attenuated), and a shared commitment to the historical narrative of America as an imperfect country that always strives to make life better for the next generation than the one that came before it.
We can’t even agree on what America is for anymore.
I’ll leave you with this letter from a reader, who says that it shouldn’t be a mystery as to why more minorities vote Republican:
In New Jersey, the state just implemented new learning standards saturated with references to gender identity. It’s to be taught in grade school, promoted in middle school (yes, promotion by the school is in the standards), with high school students advocating regarding gender identity as a curricular requirement. In addition, my school district has a state-endorsed policy that permits the school to socially gender transition a child without parental notice/consent.In response to the above, I ran as a candidate for the school board. I advocated reversal of the policy eliminating parents from such a consequential decision. Given the widespread presence of gender identity in the learning standards, I also advocated for teaching students about the harms of “gender transition” procedures, i.e., puberty-blockers, hormones, etc.In our suburban, overwhelmingly white, half-conservative/half-
liberal, town, since the summer, there has been a group of activists who protest each week endorsing BLM, antiracism, equity, diversity, inclusion, trans rights, etc. They, of course, have a right to advocate for what they believe. Some of them come to each Board of Ed meeting to tell the community how racist, intolerant, bigoted it is. It’s clear they consider themselves the community’s moral conscience.Predictably, in response to my specific concerns regarding policy and teaching, some members of this group called me homophobic, bigoted, extremist, etc. They also asserted that my presence on the Board of Ed would be harmful and a danger to students. Though, of course, the effect of my proposals would be to make the schools safer in restoring parental rights and providing needed information. Still, the accusations that I was a “danger” were within the realm of expectations.I’m an immigrant from Egypt and a naturalized citizen. What I didn’t expect was that my ethnicity also would be become an issue and a target of the activists. The claim was the reason I believed such awful things (again, look at what I’m actually proposing, which they label as extremist, dangerous, etc.) is because of my Egyptian upbringing. My being from Egypt was publicly and specifically stated as a reason to oppose me, urging that someone like me shouldn’t be on our Board of Education.I know you know this. But, the notion that progressives and progressivism are tolerant, inclusive, for diversity, (insert more buzz words), etc., is preposterous. They are for their ideology and the ideological meaning of such terms (different from their plain meaning), period. And, if you are a minority who dares to oppose their determination to redefine reality according to their will and whim, they will come after you with all they have, including disparaging your race, ethnicity, etc.I am for civic tolerance and inclusion. I seek to express my convictions regarding what is right and good and true with clarity, while extending respect and friendship to those who differ. That is why I am not a progressive and would not and could not vote for Democrats. I know that many of my liberal friends are for what I’m for too. But, the views expressed by the progressives activists in our suburban town are who the Democrats/progressives are, as a matter of core conviction, and permeate every place they have power. A vote for Democrats is a vote for people who hate me and want me and my family excluded from society. And, yes, this apparently includes contempt for who I am ethnically. Contemporary progressivism is moral self-righteousness, zealotry, and indignation, justifying actual racism.That is the reality of where we are. Accordingly, I vote Republican because they are the party who are inclusive and tolerant of difference. Are there knaves and fools and even actual racists who are Republican? Sure there are. But, as a Christian, I don’t look to them to advance all of my beliefs or to advance a vision of a righteous society. That’s what the Church is for. And, that’s not where our society is at anyway. I don’t seek “purity” in my political party or alignments. What I seek, at this point especially, is simply a space for civic peace. And what the Democrats are wholly committed to is eliminating such space and people like me along with it.