We live in conflict, division. This is nothing new to Baby Boomers such as me. Civil Rights, Viet Nam, Women’s Movement – all issues that caused bitter divisions in American Society. Yet, I can’t help but to feel that somehow, this is different. Many of the those conflicts were generational – it wasn’t as much a shift in values as it was a reinterpretation of the same values. What it meant to be a good citizen, a patriot, or a good human being was changing. The interpretation of facts was changing, but there was always a sense of shared reality – a sense that facts drive the interpretation and not vice versa. The challenge to authority was based on the inconsistency between the authority and facts.
Authorities told us that Viet Nam was necessary for our national defense, that separating races was essential for society to survive, and that women were not capable of fulfilling any other role. The facts of life, what we saw when we interacted with other races, or when women performed male defined roles very well when necessary (such as factory work during WWII) collided with demands of authorities. The questioning of authority from my generation was not about facts, but the interpretation of those facts and what they meant to build a better, more just society.
Today I speak with people… people I have known for years, who have shared the same convictions as me, who seemed to have abandoned those beliefs not so much as a result of a rational process, as much as an insistence of emotions. They are the 38% – the people who support Donald Trump no matter what. I know people who canvassed door to door for Obama who are now one of that 38%. People who based their politics on a sense of empathy for those who had no power, who never would approve of philandering, lying, fear-mongering in their personal lives who now support Trump despite the ample evidence of what the man is about.
I know active duty military, people who love their country who readily dismiss the interference and possibility of collaboration of Trump surrogates with an enemy State to undermine our election because the results justify treason. It is as though the facts of Trump and his policies were irrelevant to the need to support Trump.
Perhaps the irrelevance of facts is a function of an emerging tribalism in American society… where being identified as a member of the tribe is more important than what the tribe is or is not, does or doesn’t do. It’s not uncommon in other societies, especially in the Middle East. However, what defined our country was the fact that we were members of different tribes who came together over an ideal. I don’t know what the ideals of the 38% are, other than hate or fear – hating “Liberals” and the “mainstream media” and Muslims.
People who have acted in the past to help those less fortunate, now dismiss the idea of millions of Americans without health care if it meant that “Obamacare” was ended and their insurance premiums are reduced by pennies. People who identify with religious values that compel them to feed the poor, house the homeless, clothe the naked who support a budget that abandons those people in favor of tax breaks for the rich. Evangelicals support Trump by significant majorities! I know very well educated and intelligent people who used to agree that science should dictate policy, who now dismiss scientific facts and methods as less important than supporting whatever Trump says because of what he has come to signify to them.
What could change these people, not an insignificant number of people, to dismiss facts in favor of their need to be a part of this movement – a movement that increasingly shares the qualities of a cult more than a political movement? Fear? I don’t know, but I worry that this is a conflict that we may not survive as a Country.