America’s silo society has to face its racial demons

Jan 22, 2021

In past upheavals, Americans at least all shared the same news. Now there is an apartheid of the national spirit that is creating deeper divisions than ever…If people were given the choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness?

As Joe Biden took the oath of office overnight on Thursday (AEDT) a slew of polls confirm that something like 55 million American voters believe his election was rigged. That is, 75 percent of all who voted for Trump believe the election was stolen from them. Yet the chasm is even wider. According to a YouGov poll 45 per cent of Republicans agree with the demonstrators who used violence on January 6 to block the result. That’s a ringing endorsement of illegal political action.

As demonstrators go on trial this wedge of the electorate is going to be told every day on Fox and by Trump they are being victimised because, during the northern hemisphere summer, violence committed by Black Lives Matter went uncondemned or unpunished. Even the more softly committed Trump supporters are being drawn into a steamy underground of grievance and resentment.

Flick between Fox and CNN and witness the new bitterness in Americans’ gaping cultural divide.

One day last week CNN was interviewing Kentucky Democrat Governor Andy Beshear with footage of him being hung in effigy outside the governor’s mansion. “It is a battle for America,” he said, vowing to ban “terrorists” from the state capital. At that moment Fox was broadcasting indignant commentary about a group of Harvard staff campaigning to have the university strip degrees from graduates who had denied the validity of Biden’s election. This would include Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

“We’re becoming a one-point-of-view society,” one Fox commentator said.

Until recently my instincts were to resist the view that America under Trump was more divided than it had been anytime since the Civil War.

As an amateur historian, I was aware of the 1960s urban riots and the 1970 shootings at Kent State. The class war of the 1930s had violence at factory gates. The Smithsonian’s collection boasts one of the Gatling guns used by employers to threaten workers in the bitter strikes of the late 19th century. But in previous periods of intense conflict – during the Vietnam war years and Watergate – Americans reverted to common sources of information: a rich culture of newsprint with revered newspaper mastheads, TIME and Newsweek magazines, and the network news bulletins hosted by craggy national icons.

It’s further proof of a descent into rhetorical civil war that Hillary Clinton chose to write an op-ed after the riot more brutal on white supremacy than any leading figure has been.

Opinions are now stacked in silos, news segregated as if by an apartheid of the spirit.

The people of this riven land subscribe to separate narratives in which the motives of others are wicked and debauched and a traditional America is swinging in the breeze. The ideology that fuelled the storming of the Capitol, reinforced on Fox every day, finds justification in extreme measures if required to “take the country back.”

That renders Trump voters warriors fighting for their version of America. The Senate run-offs in Georgia – the election of a Jewish and a black man to become senators – feeds the anxiety that white America is in eclipse. This fear was expressed by Donald Trump – showing his brilliance at capturing the sentiments of his base – when he said: “There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us, from me, from you, from our country”.

Fear at what this eclipse foretells brought demonstrators to a fury in which they could chant “hang Mike Pence”. It brought eight Republican senators and 139 members of Congress to vote to block an election outcome. That they cast this vote after the violent demonstration at the Capitol is a symbol of division unprecedented in all the years since 1876.

It’s now commonplace commentary from Democrats, including the new President, that if the demonstrators in Washington had been black there would have been a harsh law-enforcement response – handcuffs and mass detentions, it’s implied, and likely tanks on the streets.

It’s further proof of a descent into rhetorical civil war that Hillary Clinton chose to write an op-ed after the riot more brutal on white supremacy than any leading figure has been, certainly more than Barack Obama allowed himself. Clinton endorsed the pessimistic race-based analysis of America’s divide. She wrote, “If people were given the choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness? Wednesday reminded us of an ugly truth: There are some Americans, more than many want to admit, who would choose whiteness.”

Nothing as candid about white nationalism as a motive force in national life has been jammed in the faces of the American public from a figure of such eminence.

For his part, Trump says the movement he started is only the beginning.

This article has been republished from The Australian Financial Review 21 January 2021. To view the original article click here.

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