We are a country divided. Not just between red and blue but within those gross divisions we are divided by demographic labels and caricature stereotypes: rural mid-westerners, suburban women, LatinX men, Black women, young people and seniors, college degree liberals and high school graduate Trumpers, whites and people of color, coastal progressives and fly-over conservatives and many more. And yes, we are a large multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation which is an experiment in diversity and democracy. We do not know if this grand experiment will survive.
The Effects of “Trumpism”
Many of us have been so angry at Trump because among other reasons he exploited the differences in this diversity and pitted groups against each other rather than bridging differences and finding common ground. He has used populist language which represents white supremacy, bigotry, racism and division when he lauded the effort of “Making America Great Again.” Further, he had told lies, made fun of the disabled and the vulnerable, snatched children away from their parents hoping to find new opportunities, and challenged the professionalism and accuracy of reporters in the media.
By these actions, he undermined the values of truth and trust which are so important in a large diverse nation. One of the results is that we can no longer trust the objectivity and truth in the reports from our many of our news organizations. We do not have the capacity as this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation to distinguish truth from fiction.
In Whom Can We Trust?
Yes, Trump has cost us trust. Trust not only in our news and information media, but also trust in our leaders, trust in science, trust in our government, and trust in each other as loyal American citizens who may look, speak or act differently from each other. He has dissolved our sense of connection, our belief in our American ideals, our confidence in our institutions like the U.S. Post Office, our faith in the future, our hope embedded in “Yes, we can,” our commitment to the promise and possibility of a better tomorrow.
This decline of agreement and consensus on the central facts of the scientific research produced by our institutions of higher education and the facts of objective reporting, leads to the blurring of lines between facts and opinions. The flaunting of long-accepted norms of courtesy, respect for others and the “Golden Rule,” undermines the principle of granting others the right to hold a different opinion or perspective. This condition is not just stimulated by Trump and his MAGA (Make America Great Again) followers; it is also influenced by the radical changes in the media, the loss of small-town newspapers and locally-owned TV stations, the rise of social media and the decline in the belief and commitment to objective journalism.
Depending on your perspective as you read this, you may also identify other major influences. These actions mean we no longer share a basis for interpreting what we hear and see. We have no common basis to determine truth. Large numbers of us lack respect for and no longer tolerate others who are different from us.
With this description of our current condition, I find myself in overwhelm. The COVID-19 pandemic with a totally ineffective leader, who either lies or ignores the high national number of cases and deaths, only adds to this overwhelm. How do we bridge the huge chasms between us in our divided country? How do we act to help our nation survive? Or will we let one of the greatest experiments in democracy in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation collapse and die a slow death? In this state of overwhelm, I turn to an old adage: “Act local but think global.”
Can we find ways to help address these issues? Can we act locally? The virus and the protests of the summer have revealed the huge gaps in opportunity, resources, health, housing, education and justice locally as well as nationally. These issues are large and there are not easy solutions.
Calling All People Who Care
Let’s find ways to come together to support each other and take care of our neighbors. Let’s join and contribute to our local organizations who are taking action, and advocate for change. We can find our courage and commitment to advocate for change in our local communities without waiting for national politicians. I believe we have compassion, believe in justice and equity, and the value of human life. We care about the climate crises and see how it affects us. In our local communities we are not us versus them. Rather, we are “us” who care about our neighbors and believe in the possibilities of the future. The cure for a divided country is caring for one another.
Although it is easy to become overwhelmed and immobilized, I am finding some ways to take action. Thus, I’m tripling my contribution to the food bank; serving as a tutor to a first-grader from a low-wage family struggling to learn on a screen; joining a community discussion about changing police responsibilities and funding; speaking up about reparations; participating in group conversations with others about our white privilege and racism. And exploring media and learning more about those who have very different views from mine.
So, what can you do? What are you doing? What will you do? Volunteer at the food bank? Join a housing coalition? Advocate for racial justice? Join an environmental action group? Let me know what actions you are taking. We can support each other. Our divided country needs us.