Umair Haque, making an argument for the prospect of war, using our cultural divide as preamble – Medium:
America has seen a kind of social collapse in the last decade, and does not even really know it. It is not commented on, not discussed, barely even noticed. Everyday people have been turned into zeros, nobodies, invisible losers — and that is why I called this essay “World War Zero”. What do I mean?
There is shattering rage in America today primarily because people were left behind by the recovery, by globalization, by growth itself. A “recovery” touted and glorified by America’s leaders, in which more than 100% of gains were taken by the rich. Can you blame Americans for their rage? And yet. The result of being economically abandoned has been profound social fracture.
Half the country or more rejects modernity wholesale: they have retreated into tribal theocratic alt-clans, where public goods — from information to healthcare — are provided by churches and communities, not by society at large. Thus, they live wholly separated lives: their media, music, literature, art, information, entertainment, theories, facts, ideas — all of it is different to, say, what a New York Times reader (or writer) knows, unfamiliar, and all of it is essentially a symbol of their rage. The price of that retreat is a failure to be civilized: the losers of modernity do not read, they do not understand politics, government, civics, economics, they do not know basic facts about the world — and they do not care to. Just like the people they hate the most — Muslim fundamentalists — their lives are one story: a tale of regress into a dark age. Irony of ironies. And yet. There’s a truer way to see all that: they only know rage.
Haque’s thesis is about the likelihood of war, because that’s what authoritarians do. He takes the cultural rage that gave us Mr. Trump and projects it into open conflict abroad. I’m going to delve into the source of this “rage” he sees in our divide, because it’s a subject that has become dear to my heart lately.
Haque’s work requires some unpacking.
Can we say those who didn’t support Trump were in any sense enraged before his still-stunning victory? The only rage I’ve heard or read of among the rest of us has been in response to his actions after inauguration day.
Before election day, though, most of those intent on electing our first female president were a content lot, a little smug perhaps in our self-assuredness. The long simmering, more general rage, if we can call it that, came from a faction among Trump’s followers.
It’s worth asking, then, how many in number were these enraged people? For all their bluster, they represented less than a quarter of the population. A sizable lot, yes, in need of attention to get at why they’re enraged, but not near enough for a plurality even in a parliamentary democracy.
About 55 percent of the US voting age population turned out for the 2016 election (about 5% of the VAP is ineligible), and of them only 46 percent cast their vote for Trump. 46% of 55% is 25.3%. That’s 25.3% of those aged 18 and over not incarcerated or otherwise ruled ineligible to vote. Not 25.3% of all Americans – we’re talking about a smaller fraction of the country and culture than that.
Many, but not all of these votes for Trump were an act of desperation. Those casting them weren’t looking for war. They weren’t enraged. They were looking for someone to hear them, for leadership, for relief of their suffering, for jobs, and for respect. They were cast by people self-identifying more as left behind or forgotten than, say, Republican.
They believe the American experiment has failed them.
Starting a shooting war with a foreign government doesn’t un-fail these people. It doesn’t answer their needs. It would be, more than anything, what I think they’d call “more of the same.” It would be their children, and now grandchildren who would go off to fight and die.
Still, Haque’s writing about our internal strife rings true. The problems we face are increasingly obvious as more of us read and think about how we arrived at a Trump presidency. A more interesting and relevant question, then, is whether these Americans’ rage could lead to civil war. I don’t believe so.
The US population isn’t neatly divided by region as it was a century and a half ago. A closer look of the election results shows voter preferences varied county by county, not state by state, much less region by region. Population centers, our hubs of education, employment, and more diverse populations tended to vote left. Rural counties tended to vote right.
Re-group the electoral college results by age and we find a large majority of younger voters voting left, period. These voters are the future of American politics, and most of them would have preferred a Sanders presidency had he won the nomination.
These demographics don’t support internal warfare.
Trump has “joked” about invading Mexico, taken pains to insult our close ally, Australia, and cozied up to Russia’s Putin.
Maybe he aims to put American soldiers and marines on the ground in Syria. Canada’s current PM is a leftie and an intellectual, two qualities denigrated by Trump followers; maybe Trump is eyeing the Great White North.
But Trump’s actions to date have been so disorganized it’s doubtful he could mount a successful campaign for a shooting war unless there’s a successful terrorist attack on US soil. No, our internal conflict will be cultural and political.
With that one exception – a successful terrorist attack – the next four years will be characterized less by warfare than by greater recognition of the roots of Trump’s rise. That’s good, cathartic. It’s the singular silver lining to his election: we now have an excellent chance of waking up Americans to the country and culture in which they really live.
Who are these Americans among us struggling every day, even as so many of us succeed with our hopes and aspirations? Why are so many of us disadvantaged so many years after our laws set a level playing field? How could we fail to provide for the inevitable result of the “giant sucking sound?” How did retraining the American workforce go so wrong, and what do we do about that and about the demagogue in the White House?
I know one thing we don’t do. We don’t let ourselves get talked into scapegoating anyone for our own problems. Not the free press, not immigrants, not other countries. We don’t let internal strife become external warfare.
And we unseat Mr. Trump, and toss the likes of him and his cronies into the ash heap of history.
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