The extreme polarization America is experiencing is, as many have noted, more than just political. People–not just in the United States, but globally–seem to be choosing identities–tribes– that include but go well beyond partisan affiliations.
It’s difficult to imagine how a “war” could be fought between these contending ideological forces, which overall tend to be rural versus urban in nature. Would Red rural inhabitants attack Blue cities, or vice-versa? How would that work?
Rather than armies, will we see increasing acts of terrorism from gangs of Neo-Nazis, Incels, or self-identified “Patriot Militias”?
This admittedly strange mental exercise was triggered by a letter to Talking Points Memo. The writer worried that– between relief that Biden had won, and what he characterized as Trump’s “essential absurdity”– we are insufficiently prepared for what he fears will come next.
Specifically, I keep thinking back to Trump’s attempt to turn Lafayette Square into a mini version of Tiananmen, complete with importing troops from a far-off province (the Bureau of Prisons) to lay waste to the locals. It wasn’t that Trump hesitated, or Barr, or any of them — it was that the military leadership, ultimately and publicly, refused to play along. (The same leadership that Trump is now gutting with a month and a half to go in his presidency.)
Following Trump’s defeat we are seeing what I have rapidly come to think of as secession-in-place, which also applies to the greater Republican Party over the past fifteen years. The Tea Party wasn’t so much a domestic political movement as a psychic break in response to having a Black man in the White House, and since that moment the post-policy Republican Party has never retreated from that view. (In that context, Trump is the leader they were waiting for, not some charismatic fiend who led patriotic Republicans astray.)
What we’re watching is a percolating cold war which Trump keeps trying to ignite. The Republican base has checked out, Trump is leading them and shows no sign of faltering, and the Republican Party is almost entirely complicit and stands in silent support. And I see no way that this gets better no matter what Biden does over the next four years.
The most troubling part of these observations, at least to me, was the fact that they seem obviously and objectively correct. What part of this analysis can we dismiss as fanciful? Overblown?
The author began by discussing earlier hopes for globalization–the once widely-held assumption that technological advances in communication and transportation would lead to more open societies and improved cultural understanding globally. As he recognized, that didn’t happen–at least, not in the way it was envisioned.
The recent shocks to both the international system and liberal expectations for the future haven’t turned back globalization entirely. They have revealed, instead, that the technological advances that were once considered a gateway to a more homogeneous world actually encourage and foster the creation of new, potent forms of cross-national solidarity and political conflict.
In other words, in much the same way that social media has allowed geographically-distanced like-minded people to forge alliances in the U.S., it has facilitated international right-wing alliances that cross national borders. Technology has made it possible–really, simple–for populists living in the mostly rural areas where such sentiments are strongest to link up with far-flung likeminded compatriots. The author argues that the internet has galvanized anti-establishment movements around the world.
The American-focused far-right QAnon conspiracy theory has spread to countries around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, and Finland. Even more widespread have been kindred protests against COVID-19 restrictions, and especially mask mandates, in dozens of nations. Trump has even found expressions of support for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election on the streets of Tokyo.
The same cross-national affinities have occurred on the left. The bottom line?
Thanks to the flood of information and images flowing ceaselessly into the incredibly powerful compact computers we carry around with us everywhere we go, political and cultural identities, affinities, and animosities are now constantly being forged and activated on a global basis. Humanity is uniting and dividing in new ways that transcend national borders.
Again, I find it difficult to argue with the analysis–and more difficult still to picture how this conflict will be waged, or how it will end.
And I have absolutely no idea what people of good will can do about it.