Living in America these days is a disorienting experience. There is a sense of heating up, like the political pressure is slowly rising, inexorably, little by little every week, with each Trump scandal dividing the country anew for a few days before the next wave hits. Last week, a particularly ominous split in the main pillar of military support for the Commander in Chief formed into a wider systemic stress point across the armed forces. Trump intervened in the case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who had been convicted of murdering a teenage captive boy in Iraq in 2017, protecting him from the punishments he deserved. This incident followed three prior instances where the Trump administration has explicitly used the military in political ways. Most recently, the conservatives have shamed Col. Vindman for participating in the House Impeachment investigations. Just before that, Trump had upended military strategy in the Middle East, and prior to that, he had used the threat of withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on Biden. And all of this comes after he tarnished the reputation of one of the military’s longtime heroes, the late John McCain.
Trump has been hard on the military for years. Why is it important for Trump to politicize the Military? The main reason is that the military class represents a sizable portion of the population that remains intentionally nonpartisan. His goal right now is to find a way to politicize the military and begin sowing the same partisan “us vs. them” mentality that allows him to control the American public into the military. The Gallagher incident forces everyone to pick a side. Trump will empower the side that favors his position and used the Gallagher incident as a wedge issue to begin shaping the new partisans within the military. You can be sure that the Gallagher incident is just the first of many future wedges that Trump will use to start sowing the seeds of discord within the military.
Part of the reason this is so obviously Trump’s modus operande in military affairs is that this is his M.O. in every other sphere of public life as well. He divides where ever he goes and corrupts every institution with partisanship. In studies of Psychopathy within the business world, one common hallmark of psychopathic behavior is the phenomenon managers may notice about an employee, namely that said employee is highly divisive. And these divisions are not shallow. People in the office will often either love this person or hate them and everything they stand for. Not saying that Trump is a psychopath (he is probably a malignant narcissist which is not better), but he does this too. Trump is that guy that everyone either loves or hates.
The partisan divide in a Trumpian America is not going to heal. If the goal of society as a collective is to remain a collective then a divisive leader will only make things worse. Add in a healthy dose of propaganda meant to divide us further, and it starts to become clearer where that feeling of heating up slowly comes from. There’s a feeling behind all of this, that, if the impeachment effort fails, which it most likely will, the 2020 election will be a boiling point beyond which no one will be able to predict the future of American politics.
From the Left, it seems as though the Right has sold itself into a strange cult. The left considers Trump to be a serial rapist, a racist, a white supremacist, a xenophobic, sadistic, shameless criminal. The Left can barely believe that this man is still in power. Engaging with Trump or Trumpism or Trump supporters intellectually is for many on the Left a nonstarter. There is nothing Trump can do that could not erase the stain he has brought to the nation’s history. But to make matters worse, Trump is following the playbook of the Left’s worst nightmare demagogues. He is making moves to actively tamper with elections, sow misinformation, and solicit help from a foreign power in his campaign against Biden. That last bit is an impeachable offense, and the Left thinks he should be removed from those grounds alone. Suffice it to say that the Left views Trump as one of the worst things to ever happen to America and a parasite who will continue to corrupt us as long as he remains in power. The sooner he is gone, the better.
Meanwhile, the Right sees Trump as a basically good person, sometimes sweet, sometimes naughty, but always a trues son of the Republic. To some, Trump is on some level the only true representative of what it means to be American in American politics today. More and more, it seems that on some fundamental level, Trump is “American,” in the sense that if something becomes Trumpian, it is somehow more American than it was beforehand. He has changed lives, given people purpose, given hope and something to hope for. He is a martyr who has given up a luxurious billionaire lifestyle in order to help his country get back on the right track. He didn’t want to get involved, and now that he has, the Democrats are not even grateful for the amazing job he is doing on the economy or China or ending American military entanglements. The Democrats simply hate him for partisan reasons and have launched phony investigations against him in order to try to remove him from office. They can’t even say one nice thing about Trump. Since Trump is facing all of that opposition, he can’t be blamed for playing hardball with them. He has not broken any rules, as far as the Right sees it, and even if he had, he did it for our sake, the sake of America’s future. Trump is the greatest president possibly of all time, and the true believers will follow him wherever he leads them.
Is there any way to bridge the gap between the two sides at this point? Things will just keep heating up. The animosity between the sides will continue to grow.
Another phenomenon has also begun to creep in: epistemic complacency. We no longer care to know everything, to follow every story, to stay up to speed with the onslaught of the information. The storm of data and gossip is overwhelming, and those who can’t take the pressure check out. For the most part, it’s good to take breaks from the toxicity of the current state of political discourse. But we must be on guard for permanent schisms, where breaks from attention become permanent sojourns into the bliss of the apathetic, the apolitical. If that break grows, especially during an election year, people may stay home on Election Day.
There is only one solution. To hold on tight, to weather the storm, and vote him out less than a year from now. Love him or hate him, he is too divisive for our democracy to handle.