To My International Readers: What Is Happening Here?

To My International Readers: What Is Happening Here? August 25, 2023

To My International Readers: What Is Happening Here?

I know what it is like to watch American news outlets talk about what is happening in other countries. They usually offer very little insight, just “facts” that leave me shaking my head in wonder. I have lived “abroad,” as we say, and know what it is like to live in a country you think you know about from US news and other information and find out there’s so much more to the story than you ever heard or read.

So this blog post is for my international readers especially, although my fellow Americans are welcome to read and ponder.

First of all, the catalyst for this blog essay is what happened in Atlanta, Georgia yesterday (Thursday, August 24, 2023). Former president of the US Donald Trump was very publicly arrested in Atlanta, Georgia. Many of us watched it live on one of our prime time network television news programs. He arrived at the country jail in a very large motorcade with police escort, stayed inside for a few minutes, then left. His “mug shot” was taken, as is the custom, and he paid his $200k bail. I assume he was fingerprinted. He is formally indicted there for many crimes but they all have to do with allegedly attempting to stop the peaceful transfer of power in January, 2021 after the election of Joe Biden as his replacement as president of the United States.

This much most people paying any attention around the world already know.

Here, I am concerned to inform people outside the US, especially, about what led up to this unique and momentous event—a former president of the United States indicted and “booked” into a jail (even though he was there only a few minutes). But even more, why so many Americans support Trump in spite of his character flaws and multiple indictments.

What is especially shocking to many Americans is that millions upon millions of Americans say they will still vote for him, even if he is convicted and even if he is sentenced to prison (which he could be). Iowa is my home state and it is where the first state-wide selection of Republican candidates to attend and vote at the upcoming Republican Party convention are selected in a very strange process called “caucusing.” I keep my eyes on Iowa and I have seen and heard many Iowa Republicans state very strongly that they believe Trump is innocent, the victim of a left-wing conspiracy, and the only politician who can save America and make it great again.

It is entirely possible that Trump will be re-elected president of the United States next year. The most recent poll I saw indicated that if the election were held “today” and it was between Trump and President Biden, 43% of people who plan to vote would vote for each one. Very few Americans think Biden is a good president (his approval rating is very low). Our country is deeply, deeply divided. Probably more divided and divided in a more dangerous way than since the years leading up to our Civil War in the 1860s.

There are radio commentators publicly calling for the arrest and even execution of “leftists” which, to them, means all Democrats. Sure, they can be dismissed as crazies, but the very fact that they are saying these things publicly in such a hostile political atmosphere is frightening.

So what’s behind this crisis in American political and social life? There are numerous opinions. Left-leaning talking heads and commentators argue that behind it lies a rise in neo-fascism under the guise of “populism.” Something similar to the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy in the 1920s and the rise of Francisco Franco in Spain in the 1930s. Right-leaning talking heads and commentators argue that behind it lies the left-wing’s (read “Democrats”) carelessness about traditional American values and their alleged drive to destroy values “middle Americans” hold dear.

This divide has often been labeled America’s “culture war.” It used to simmer; now it has blown up into extreme hostility symbolized by the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol intended by many of the rioters to stop the formal selection by the US Congress of Joe Biden as democratically elected president.

The “back story” of this situation is not just the belief by many Americans that the Democrats “stole the election,” as many Republicans claim. The back story is much longer and deeper than that, deeply ingrained in a great divide within America over radically diverse philosophies of what American should be.

Conservative Americans, whose hero was and still is Ronald Reagan, president of the United States in the 1980s, tend to believe that Democrats and other left-leaning American “elites” have worked very hard through the media and academic institutions to undermine American culture as it was and should be. These people TEND to live in the Midwest and South and in small cities and semi-rural towns. They TEND to be religious even if they don’t attend church regularly. They TEND to believe in traditional family structures and values. They TEND to believe in law and order in an especially conservative way. They TEND to believe that a loose conspiracy of left-leaning elites in places like New York and Los Angeles and smaller cities with large universities (e.g., Austin, Texas) have coalesced to change America into a radically different place than they believe it was and should always be. They TEND to be suspicious of immigrants.

When Trump very strongly stood up and declared that he would turn the tide of “leftism” in America and even destroy it (not necessarily his exact words but words used by some of his supporters), the people described above believed that he, even given his challenging history of moral failures, was the only person capable of doing that. Many conservative Christians called him “our Cyrus,” meaning that, like the ancient Persian king who seemed to favor and support the Jewish people, Trump would favor and support “traditional family values,” an umbrella term that covers many values that have nothing directly to do with family.

Here is my “take” on all this as an observer of American social and political history and contemporary life. It know it is controversial, but I stand by it nevertheless.

The left-leaning “elites” (many influential academics, journalists, creators of media entertainment, politicians) simply did not take the Americans I describe above seriously. They did not listen to them. They dismissed them as “deplorable” and rural rubes and religious fanatics. Their way of life was destined to die out as values such as “diversity” (like “family values” an umbrella concept that covers much more than racial equality and freedom of expression, etc.) replaced their vision of America.

America went through a moral revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. I lived through it. Looking back on it now, it was as shocking as the current one (viz., the rise of the radical “right” and uncritical support of Trump). People like entertainment mogul Normal Lear had a seemingly clear agenda to use popular television entertainment to discredit traditional, conservative American values by ridiculing those who held them. TV character “Archie Bunker” became the symbol of the millions of Americans people like Lear seemed to despise even though most of them did not identify with his racist disposition.

Resentment grew and eventually sizzled among conservative Americans, but the left-leaning elites did not take them seriously. Their vision of “true America” was and is seen as dangerously retrograde and reactionary (to the left-leaning cultural revolution). But “voices” from that sector of American society began to rise and insist on being heard. People who for most of the 20th century sat out political life began to dream of a (nonviolent) revolt against the “left” that they saw as taking over America and making it decadent if not worse.

During the 1990s these right-leaning, conservative Americans began to use the term “political correctness” to label everything they saw as wrong, even possibly evil, in especially American academic life and its results. Most of them, at one time or another, experienced the (to them) insult of being told their language was outdated and even wrong (ethically). They began to seethe inside with resentment at the people they labeled “the left wing elites” of American society. They began to follow radio talk show hosts and commentators who fed on their resentment and supported their beliefs.

During all of this, throughout the 1980s and into the first decade of this century, left-leaning American so-called “elites” who seemed to control the universities and major entertainment companies and departments of government, simply didn’t take all of this seriously enough. They continued their left-leaning drive to change America into their vision of what it should be. The gulf between the two sides grew into a canyon. The two sides began to cast aspersions at each other. They didn’t listen to each other or talk to each other.

The left-leaning portion of America simply didn’t take the right-leaning portion seriously except as enemies. And until the election of Trump they assumed that their enemies could largely be ignored or controlled.

This interpretation of recent American history cannot be seen as dissimilar to what happened in Italy in the 1920s and Spain and Germany in the 1930s.

Throughout all of this chaos in American social and political life, I was deeply imbedded in Christian universities, none of which were especially left- or right-leaning. But I did observe (my interpretation) that conservative students and faculty members were more marginalized in terms of being heard and taken seriously than left-leaning students and faculty. I wondered why and could only assume it was because the left-leaning student and faculty could and did use language that more than implied that the right-leaning students and faculty were, even if nice and bright people, backward in their thinking, reactionary, possibly brainwashed by their churches and leading conservative Christian (and other) influencers. They, but especially their “people,” were not taken seriously. There was never any serious attempt to sit down together and listen to each other and take each other seriously. There was without any doubt in my mind a sense of self-superiority on the part of the left-leaning faculty members and students.

Trump was and is a wake up call to the left-leaning portion of America. But are they listening? Both sides have fallen into simply vilifying the others and lumping everyone into one side or the other. It’s virtually impossible to be a moderate these days in America.

Now none of the above explained why Trump was booked into a county jail (only to be released immediately). What it does attempt to explain is why so many Americans say they will vote for Trump even if he is convicted of his alleged crimes. There is tremendous and deep resentment and anger on the part of what Jerry Falwell labeled the “silent majority” in America. Whether they were really silent or a majority is still much debated. But I have witnessed whole denominations of conservative Christians who never were politically committed in the 1950s turn being Republican and even Trump supporters into almost a test of Christian authenticity. My explanation above is my attempt to explain how this happened.

It may sound like I’m blaming left-leaning Americans for Trump. Well, yes, to a certain extent I am. They didn’t listen or pay attention to the vast and increasingly loud voices (even if only in their own heads) of socially conservative Americans mostly in places like Texas (the second most populous state) and Iowa and Kentucky and South Carolina and even New Hampshire.

P.S. Most of the people I talk about as “right-leaning” in America would consider me “left-leaning,” especially in economic matters. I have said here many times that I am a democratic socialist. I do not see myself fitting into any of the major categories or movements in contemporary American political and social life. I look at both sides and shake my head in amazement that they have come so far in terms of refusing to listen to each other or take each other seriously. This was destined to lead to “this”—the rise of Trump and Trumpism—because the “left” refused to acknowledge the size and power and anger of the “right” and seek compromise just to prevent the looming possible (hopefully non-violent) civil war that we are facing. What happened in Italy, Spain and Germany and many other countries could most certainly happen here. I hope not, but it is possible.

*Note: If you decide to comment, make sure your comment is relatively brief (no more than 100 words), on topic, addressed to me, civil and respectful (not hostile or argumentative), and devoid of pictures or links.*

 

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