Liberals must share much of the blame for a US at war with itself4 min read . Updated: 08 Sep 2020, 08:03 PM IST
The left-liberal elite’s intolerance of alternate ideas is partly responsible for America’s polarization
It is unfortunate that just when the world needs far-sighted leadership from its superpowers (the US and China), in particular, we have the exact opposite. The US, facing a polarizing presidential election, the result more of a “liberal" unwillingness to tolerate the presence of a Donald Trump than the latter’s own manifest unsuitability for the job, is at war with itself. China, no doubt driven by internal threats to its own authoritarian power structure and emboldened by a weak America, has launched verbal and physical assaults on neighbours in the belief that it can become the new Asian hegemon. Far from providing solutions to a world driven apart by inequality, de-globalization, and internal and external conflicts, it has chosen to worsen the problem.
The midi powers (Russia, Germany, Japan, Britain, France and India) are too busy grappling with their own economic and geopolitical insecurities to provide the collective leadership that needs to replace a world driven solely by superpower interests. But it is America’s self-absorption with its internal fault-lines that is giving every tyrant around the chance to spread mayhem when Uncle Sam isn’t watching.
The one thing Trump did not do wrong was to keep giving China under Xi Jinping a free pass. This might well change if the Democrats win big on 3 November, though there is loud talk of both the Republicans and Democrats preparing legal ammunition in case the election does not produce a decisive result. Given the highly decentralized nature of American elections, it is easier for foreign powers to cyber-meddle at the county or state levels and impact outcomes. The real problem is that an America that does not trust its own poll processes is a danger to itself and the world that depends on its leadership.
This is largely a failure of liberalism in America, which has steadfastly refused to understand its own sub-national cultures. A book by Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America, says that the country is really a composite of 11 sub-national cultures.
These nations are Yankeedom (the entire north-east north of New York City), New Netherland (NY City with its materialistic culture), the Midlands (the ethnically diverse region comprising parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, etc), Tidewater (now shrinking, and comprising areas around Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina), Greater Appalachia (parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana and Texas, among others), the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and parts of Texas), the Hispanic El Norte (parts of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California), the Left Coast (most of coastal California, Oregon and Washington state), the Far West (spanning states like Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Nebraska, etc), New France (New Orleans and areas bordering Canada’s Quebec), and First Nation ( areas populated by Native American-Indians).
Broadly speaking, Yankeedom, New Netherland, Greater Appalachia, Left Coast, and New France tend to be liberally-biased, and give the Democratic party its popular vote heft. The Deep South and Far West tend to be conservative, with Midlands opportunistically swinging both ways. The sub-cultures were formed based on the kind of European immigrants that colonized the regions.
The current ideological polarization is partly a reflection of the sub-national cultures that continue to exist, but more the result of the growing intolerance of America’s liberal elite. They dominate the Deep State and national institutions and are characterized by a “cancel culture" in which opinions other than their own are not accorded a right to exist.
That left-liberal hubris comes from having won most of the culture wars of the past, from the abolition of slavery to the enactment of civil rights laws to women’s empowerment and recognition of sexual preferences and identities. Past victories tend to engender a belief that one has all the answers, but this presumption of infallibility has reduced liberalism to a label, not a lived reality. The cause of US polarization is not a flawed man called Donald Trump, but a flawed understanding of what it means to be liberal in America, where non-liberal views are denied space of their own.
Equally, by being unwilling to tolerate a Trump presidency for another term, left-liberals are signalling that they may not accept the results of a democratic process, though this is equally true of some Trump supporters. But here’s the point: in America, no president can have more than two terms in office, and so even if Trump wins (the odds are against him), so-called liberals have a 100% chance of seeing his back by 2024. If they can’t wait four years to see their enemy off, it speaks poorly of their own liberal credentials.
Closing the trust deficit needs greater acceptance of the right by America’s left-liberal elite. By suggesting that they won’t accept a Trump victory, howsoever legitimate it may be, it is they who appear to be sharpening its polarization. They are more accountable for letting US leadership in the world decline, as they are busy undercutting their own elected president. Liberals are killing the Idea of America by not living up to their labels.
R. Jagannathan is editorial director, ‘Swarajya’ magazine