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The disuniting of the United States?



There is a deep ideological economic divide between Democratsand Republicans for the first time since the Great Depression.

For most of January and February I was in LosAngles, California. This is the centre of the“Trump resistance” and California played a significantrole in the Democrats winning control of theHouse of Representatives. In his State of the Unionaddress, President Trump gave an emollient accountof the US’ economic progress — with a higher economicgrowth rate, the lower unemployment rate forAfrican Americans and Hispanics; the benefits fromderegulation and the tax cuts (but not the failure todeal with the burgeoning fiscaldeficit)—and his foreign policy successes.But, this was met by stonysilence on the Democratic seats,except when he congratulated theirwhite blazered women for being thelargest feminine contingent in UScongressional history.

But as Joseph Epstein (“Thestate of the union.., WSJ, 1February) pointed out, thePresident’s rosy scenario was repudiatedby the reality of an utterlydivided country, with the “so-calledaisle between the two parties in both houses a moreeffective wall than any the Homeland SecurityDepartment could devise”. This reflects, he argues,the lack of consensus on fundamental values likefamily, education, security, fairness and decency onwhich there was agreement not so long ago. “Whatunion”, he concludes, “one might ask about a countryso divided within itself, so vastly, so radically, sosadly at loggerheads”. How has this come about?

The proximate cause is the post traumatic stressthe Trump resistance is still suffering from the lossof the Presidency which they had assumed was inthe bag for Hilary Clinton. Nothing illustrates thisbetter than the recent revelations by the formerdeputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, that heand the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein,after President Trump fired James Comey as the FBIdirector in May 2017, discussed using the 25th amendmentof the constitution to depose him. As the WSJcommented (“The FBI’s Trump Panic”, February 19).“This is extraordinary, and as far as we know unprecedented.A President exercises his constitutional prerogativeto fire the FBI director, and Mr Comey’s associatesimmediately talked about deposing him inwhat amounted to a coup.” AsMcCabe has been fired for lying toFBI investigators, it is difficult toknow the truth. The whole mess,including Rosenstein’s appointmentof Robert Mueller as the special counselto investigate Trump-Russia ties“after Mr Comey arranged a medialeak” after his firing, is now on thedesk of the new attorney generalWilliam Barr, and we will have to waitand see if, as “Mr Trump’s enemiesstill claim, he is a Russian agent” or“as millions of his supporters thinkthere is a ‘deep state’ conspiracy against him”.

The deeper reason for the current political divideis the growing repudiation by the Democrats of manyaspects of what had been the traditional US methodof assimilation through the ‘melting pot’, wherebydiverse individual identities were transformed intoa distinctive American identity, as observers fromDe Tocqueville onwards had noted. The only shamefulexception were the descendants of the slaves whodid not get equal rights as citizens till the Civil Rightsmovement of the 1960s.

With the accession of a black President one wouldhave thought that Martin Luther King’s dream — ofindividuals not being judged by the colour of theirskin but their character— had come to fruition.Ironically, the radical Black Power movement’s assertionof different cultural identities had led to theembrace of multiculturalism by many ethnic groups.The Democrats embraced multiculturalism and itsidentity politics. They “unleashed race, gender, sexualorientation and class as the defining issues ofAmerican politics”.(“The Democrats’ IdentityMeltdown”, WSJ, 11 February). 

The weaponisation of identity issues was shamefullydemonstrated in the confirmation hearings ofJustice Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, when hewas labelled a gang rapist with no evidence. InJanuary, the tables were turned with the turmoil inVirginia with the Democratic Governor and AttorneyGeneral being asked to resign by Democrats for having‘blacked’ their faces when they were at college,and the Lt Governor (Justin Fairfax) being accusedof rape, which he denied. The WSJ commented“imagine the cognitive Democratic dissonance if MrFairfax who is black is forced to resign” because ofunproven accusations whilst “the two white mensurvive despite racial offenses they admit”.

There is furthermore a new divide which hasopened up with the recent Green New Deal promotedby the Democrat’s latest star, the 29-year-old NewYork Rep Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez (AOC), who callsherself a ‘democratic socialist’. She is considered bythe media as second only to Speaker Pelosi in theHouse and is already known by her initials. The largenumber of prospective Democrat Presidential aspirantshave all embraced the leftward swing of AOC.She wants to raise the top income tax rate to 70 percent from 37 per cent. Elizabeth Warren wants awealth tax on multimillionaires. Bernie Sanderswants the death duty top rate to rise to 77 per cent.But it is AOC’s New Green Deal which is the mostambitious socialist measure, which as AOC acknowledgeswould require massive government intervention.“On one estimate, her proposed new entitlementsand public works would cost $6.6 trillion ayear which is two thirds larger than America’s $4 trillionfederal budget”. ( Edward Luce “Green NewDeal…” FT, 15 February). Apart from proposals toeliminate air travel, cows (for the methane in theirbowel emissions) and of course fossil fuels.

For the first time since the Great Depression thereis a deep ideological economic divide between theparties: Socialist Democrats and capitalistRepublicans. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majorityleader acknowledges this as reopening debates ofthe 1930s when socialist and communist ideologieswere discredited. He has asked for a vote on the NewGreen Deal in the Senate to smoke out the socialists.He noted that Gallup found for the first time thatDemocrats have a more “positive view” of socialismthan capitalism. (Fred Barnes: “Ocasio-Cortez heraldsa new political era”, WSJ, 19 February.)

The revival of the divide between the supportersof capitalism and socialism will be settled at the 2020election. If America’s character has not changed, Iwould be very surprised if the newly found socialismof AOC and her Democratic fellow travellers areendorsed by the electorate. Hopefully, this may alsoend the various forms of identity politics promotedby the Democrats which are disuniting America.

Source: Business Standard