Part Two – That Cursed Divide
Rather than healing the political divide, Joe Biden seems to have enough on his plate just keeping that divide from becoming even wider. And he’s doing that mainly by being careful not to confront or otherwise irritate those on the other side. And that seems a good approach for the moment, given the volatility of the situation and the fact that he seems to have no clear plan for dealing with the issue in other, more assertive ways.
Besides, his main problem in terms of political divides, at least in the near term, is likely to be those within his own party. Because the progressive AOC-Sanders wing seems to see Biden’s victory as something of a mandate for the kind of change they advocate. While on the other side, he has moderates, such as Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.
In a Democratic post-election, post-mortem conference call, Spanberger, who nearly lost her usually safe seat on November 3rd, put her feelings bluntly. “If we are classifying Tuesday as a success, we will get f*cking torn apart in 2022.”
That is just a sampling of the kind of rancor and divisiveness Biden faces. And as a result, his options are generally being seen as either moving to the left by enacting policies that appease those progressives who are out for revenge after the last four years of Trump, or moving to the right to comfort the moderates who believe it is necessary to take a more measured stance in order to appeal to those former Democrats who once again voted for Trump.
Instead it’s about Trump versus anti-Trump
But that seems a misreading of the situation in many ways. Because the current divide in the country is not so much about policy or even politics – at least not in the traditional sense. Instead it’s about Trump versus anti-Trump – not exactly your grandfather’s left/right political standoff.
So Biden’s first job in terms of healing the divide is going to involve having a good long look at the results of the last few elections, in order to come to some kind of understanding as to what is really going on. But in order for that understanding to be complete, he is going to have to come to terms with the part being played by those on his side of that divide, especially those on his left.
Because that divide is not going to be truly bridged by Biden reaching across the aisle to Trump supporters and asking them to come to him. It will only be done by moving his own supporters – not to cross that divide, obviously – but to momentarily wander up to the line, in order to get a better look at those on the other side.
That will not be an easy sell. But it seems unlikely that any politician from one side will be able to reach across to those on the other side – certainly not to any real effect.
Just try to think of a high-profile member of the Trump camp, who you would listen to if approached.
Would it be Kellyanne Conway, or Stephen Miller, or Congressman Jim Jordan? Who would it be? Just contemplating that idea should be enough to indicate the degree of difficulty in Biden or any other Democratic being able to bridge the divide by reaching across from his side of the aisle.
Sure, it may be possible to find common ground on one issue or another. But that is not going to heal the real divisions. To truly do that is going to take a sincere level of introspection, and one with the real potential of a change in attitudes. And that is not likely to happen any time soon – certainly not on the Trump side – especially given the bitterness and resentment Trump has managed to stoke in the aftermath of his defeat. A recent Monmouth Poll shows that 77% of Trump voters believe Biden won the election because of fraud. That’s in the neighborhood of 57,000,000 people.
That is the unsettling situation Biden now faces. And it will be entirely up to him and the Democrats to resolve that situation. And that is true for several reasons.
The first, is that Biden won the election, and is about to become commander-in-chief of the entire nation. That does not necessarily give him much of a mandate. But of the so-called mandates that victory may have given him, ending the madness and healing the nations divide seems to be the strongest.
The second reason is that, as previously stated, Trump supporters are in no mood to even want to heal the divide, especially the politicos among them, who tend to see that divide as to their advantage. In fact for some, it is their sole reason for being. Which is not unlike their opposite on the Democratic side, which Biden will also have to deal with.
The third, is that Democratic supporters tend to be the more introspective of the two camps, and are more likely to be of an intellectual bent. So they are more likely to look at the world from 40,000 feet, and therefore be in a position to see the forces at play in creating that divide. While Trump voters are more likely to have their noses to the ground trying to figure out where the next mortgage payment is coming from.
And sure, a great swath of Democratic voters are in the same position as Trump’s base, just as Trump has many followers who are much better off generally than most of us. But those less well off Democrats have little personal power, and as a result, tend follow the party line – just look at Black voters over the last half century.
Meanwhile, the elite Trump supporters, such as Steve Bannon, are not so much following Trump, as leading him in the direction they want him to go. And they’re doing that in order to fulfill long held beliefs and ideals of their own. Which is why Bannon left the Trump administration as early as he did. Once he realized his agenda was not the one being enacted, he did not see any reason to stick around.
Another reason it will be up to Democrats, and progressives in general, is that they are the ones more likely to believe in the political process and see it as a positive force for change – and therefore want to use it in positive ways. In part that is because they tend to think they have the power and know-how to do that, while those on the Trump side only feel they have the power to blow things up. And because those Trump voters do not feel they have any real stake in the country, or in the world, they do not have any reason to resist that desire to blow that world to pieces. And that is a real problem for Biden and the Democrats.
Another potential difficulty is that while Biden and the Democrats are generally in a better position to understand and heal the divides, they also tend to see things in more traditionally political terms. Conventional wisdom would suggest that that would not help them in their relations with those on the other side. But Trump voters, by and large, do not see the divide in traditional left/right terms.
Which means the divide is not really about border security or healthcare, or even racism and sexism. Because the real dividing line is not left versus right, or even right versus wrong in a moral sense. It is between those who want to blow up the world, and those who want to change it; between those who want to fix Obamacare, and those who want to blast it to smithereens.
But either way, the only thing Biden is likely to be able to do in terms of helping heal the divide, will be in bringing his own supporters to some kind of understanding as to the actions they need to take and the direction they need to move. But since his supporters tend to see things in left/right terms – meaning their focus is on resisting movement to the right or left – that should work to his advantage. Because healing this divide may have little if anything to do with changes in policy.
And to the extent that’s true, it means it is not so much about dropping the idea of a single-payer health care system, as it is in finding ways of presenting and implementing that kind of change in a way that will appeal to those on the other side. And at its core, that means finding ways of understanding what Trump voters are thinking, where they’re really coming from, and what their needs truly are.
If progressives can do that, they have a chance of presenting their kind of change in a way that shows Trump voters what’s in it for them. And that may not be as difficult as some seem to think. Because, as has been pointed out many times, the policies of progressives such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are really aimed at the kinds of Americans who voted for Trump. So it may just be a matter of presenting policies and generally interacting with Trump voters in more positive, productive ways
So instead of telling them they need to swallow progressive policies such as the Green New Deal because they’re good for the planet (which to them means rich people like you) you need to show them how those policies will be good for them – especially if you can show them ways they might even be better for them than for you.
But to do that Democrats need to understand the needs of those who voted for Trump, as well as how they see the world. And right now there is little if any of that kind of outreach and introspection going on – just as was the case in the aftermath of 2016. Which is why progressives still do not seem to have learned anything of value about Trump voters over the last four years.
And to see how that can play out in real time, take a look at the November 15th edition of Reliable Sources on CNN.
Host Brian Stelter spent most of that show discussing a single pressing issue, and one that is a common theme of the program – the proliferation of fake news.
In his intro to the show he indicated that the media generally only addresses one side of the fake news issue – the supply side – which means all the networks and other sources out there spreading knowingly false information. He then advanced the notion that we need to start talking about the demand side of the equation, asking “Why is there demand? Why do so many people want to consume these lies?”
He then turned to his panel of experts and proceeded to answer that question – only not in the way he’d intended.
He did it by showing why the demand for fake news was so intense among Trump voters, by demonstrating how the beliefs and opinions of those voters are constantly being ignored. And he did that by ignoring them himself.
Because during the entirety of that discussion, which took up most of the hour-long show, he and his panel of media experts said almost nothing about the people who are demanding that alternative reality and why.
Instead they talked at length about FOX News and all the outlets now trying to outflank FOX on the right, and about right wing media in general. In other words they spent all their time talking about the supply side of fake news – just as they always have. This, after Stelter spent six or seven minutes decrying that very fact in his intro to the show.
The fact that Stelter and his colleagues were apparently unable to discuss the demand side of fake news in terms of how that demand was being generated, is a rather telling indication of the source of the problem. It tells us that this fake news explosion is in many ways rooted in the way main stream media treats those who are not part of their core audience – mainly because those potential viewers are so unlike members of the media – and in demographically significant ways.
How could they not be, when members of the media are generally members of the cultural and intellectual elite, certainly as seen by Trump’s base. To them, it’s the elites of the country who dominate the media – the corporate elites, the cultural and intellectual elites, the political elites.
In other words the organizations of main stream media are staffed and run by the very people Trump supporters hate the most. And with mainstream media being the subject of that loathing, and the target of much of what is considered fake news, it becomes very difficult to be truly objective in your understanding and reporting of it. And that makes it an issue that is very difficult for members of the media to talk about in a sincere and open way – as could be said for almost anyone in a position of power.
In other words, if you are in a position of authority, and therefore in a position to do something about the problem, then almost by definition, you are not likely to be in a position, intellectually, emotionally and otherwise, to actually do something about it.
Which goes a long way in explaining why problems of hyper-partisan divisiveness persist. And that is why we need more people like Charlie Wyatt, my character in The Contrarian Candidate, who is able to gain traction in his efforts to unseat the president, by speaking to Trump’s voters in positive ways they truly understand, and in ways that would hopefully help others, like Brian Stelter and his colleagues, connect with those same voters in more enriching and enlightening ways.