Like zombies circling in deathless confusion, those in the commentariat class bemoan the lack of civility and bipartisanship besetting the nation. But they shamble in vain. The death of civility is baked into the discriminatory cake now, because it’s a key ingredient in the DNA of the Trump political movement.
We are not, in fact, lacking in unity in this country. We have more unity than ever. It’s just that it’s within two increasingly irreconcilable factions. This is the product of President Trump’s imperishable “Us vs. Them” worldview. But it’s not a byproduct; it’s the plan. Trump knows he can’t win as a normal politician, and he doesn’t much care. He has seen and felt the lift he gets from stigmatizing and demonizing, and it doesn’t matter to him whether the enemies he tars are foreigners or fellow citizens. It all works; it’s all good.
This strategy, of course, puts his opponents in a difficult spot. They can either lie down and take it, or fight back with some strength and get accused of being irrational and moblike for their trouble. And this is just one more way in which the Trumpistas project their own tactics as a failing of their opponents. Debate in the United States has become two sides accusing each other of the same thing. An endless “I know you are, but what am I?” Funhouse of Mirrors, without the fun. Discussion isn’t just difficult while going round and round this mulberry bush; it’s also impossible. And for Trump, that’s the point.
Correction: One side is, in fact, having a great deal of fun. Trump is having the time of his life being the center of controversy and national rancor. And a lot of his followers seem to revel in it, too. Perhaps the most shocking diagnosis I have seen was shared with me in the comments section here by a reader. Adam Serwer, writing recently in the Atlantic, described Trump’s hold on his followers in a fully distilled formulation: “The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.”
I’m not sure it’s quite as stark as that, but it certainly seems to capture at least a part of the horrors afflicting the nation. This is little different in its properties from our opioid epidemic. And it’s similarly toxic and dangerous.
Addiction epidemics do not last forever, and we may outlast this one. But the longer the treatment is delayed, the greater the damage. And, yes, that which doesn’t kill you can make you stronger.
That is, of course, if it doesn’t kill you.