We have spent a lot of time focused on Donald Trump these past few years, probably because in an era of social media and a lack of volume control he speaks the loudest He makes for good headlines and he commands millions of loyal supporters. He positions himself as larger than life. Ultimately in control of his followers. The voice either of reason or insanity depending on which side you are on. He is bombastic and not very well read (this by his own admission) . He views the world literally one dollar at a time, focused on transactions in place of deep thinking. His appeal primarily being he is not a traditional politician. At a time when public opinions view of Congress is at all time low, his promise to tear it all down was welcomed. But for all the promises, all the chaos was this all a creation of Trump’s mind? Like so many things in history it goes way deeper than that. The reality is Donald Trump is just a symptom of what has occurred on the US for the last 30-40 yrs. A period which has seen the American middle class in a gradual decline to poverty and social decay. It has been a perversion and destruction on the American dream.
That American dream was a white persons dream (in 1950 89.5% of US population was white). Largely built during the era of post World War II America, A country that came through the global war with her homelands unscathed and an economy intact with a world at her doorstep that needed rebuilding. Blue collar workers in America had strong unions and consequently had great wages. The American dream was a house with two cars, a husband and wife and two kids. The television was new and exciting with a TV dinner tray (is this where American obesity stated?). Luckily no remote, so you actually had to get up and turn the channel (there were only three). Growing up you learned about the fifties in a dreamlike fashion. Eisenhower was president and he played a lot of golf (the record is actually held by Woodrow Wilson at over 1200 rounds, Eisenhower is second). The American dream was at its crest.
Between that crest and now a lot of things happened to change the view of the American dream. When we see a dream a lot lurks under the covers. The civil rights movement exploded, trying to make up for 246 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow. It is still with us nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights act. Vietnam brought our military and political leadership into question. The labor unions slowly died as we let the free market decide peoples fate and more importantly their net worth to society. We were taught to distrust government and then wonder why it fails us. Yet time and time again during times of crisis we turned to our government (9/11, Financial Crisis, COVID-19 etc..) to save us from the mess we were in. If you think about it we seem to in crisis very eight to nine years. We seem to put our hatred of government n pause in those moments.
We did not get here over night. Where we are today has been a long time in the making. It did not start with Obama or GW Bush. We have slowly been moving this direction towards a sharp division in the United States. A trend that seems like it cannot be broken. We lack a civil discourse in the nation. We have started to doubt who we are and where we are headed. Generations have grown up with the idea of American exceptionalism. For many it was a concrete belief bordering on fact, but over time we have seen this belief begin to fragment. To see some of our darker secrets enter the national dialog. The days of the man working at a factory and coming home to a house with his wife and kids, seems like a dream of yesteryear. Most of those jobs and the wages associated with them outsources abroad. In the meantime the free market people say, “you need to find something else to do”, which always amazes me as they fail to accommodate the factor known as time. You have to find the “new” thing, get necessary training (education) perhaps relocate all while still having bills to pay. It’s easy.
Oklahoma City was a seminal moment in US history. On April 19, 1995 a bomb went off in the Alfred P Murrah Federal building killing 167 people and sending shockwaves throughout America. The immediate reaction was this was foreign terrorist activity, but what America was not prepared for was the terrorists were not foreign, they were homegrown. Timothy McVeigh would go down in history as the instigator of this crime but as time past on, in the circles of the extreme right he would become a hero and not a villain. McVeigh had grown disillusioned with the American government. The Waco siege was a defining moment for him of government overreach. He was a extreme gun rights advocate, so extreme he left the NRA, viewing it as too soft on gun rights. He was a racist, reading works like the “Turner Diaries”. But more importantly his view on government rather than being disconcerting, has become prominent in American dialog when discussing government. There is a large and growing group of people who hate their government. Like a slow moving cancerous disease it continues to spread. In those groups McVeigh is a hero.
It is ok for a society to be disappointed in government. This is what our democracy was built upon, for the people if they were not happy with their existing government leadership, they were provided the ballot box to change it. When it was created it was revolutionary. However over the past several decades we have seen Americans faith in government erode. Routine polls show Congress below 25%. Negative campaigning is the norm. Social Media has altered the discourse towards emotional outbursts rather than substantive dialog. It has altered the mood in the nation and ravaged our social framework. People routinely site a return to the constitution, but I would argue we have never really left it. The framework of our government remains intact as defined by the first three articles of the constitution. What the federal government does not decide falls to the states (article IV). If you do not like how your state is handing government, there are 49 other states to choose from. The constitution is alive and well.
Technology which really started as an industry towards the end of the eighties with the birth of companies like Apple and Microsoft, would play an increasing role in this public discourse. A big driver was the dawn of the internet into the public domain. As the web evolved it began to take on a social connection and before you knew it you had lots of social outlets (like blogging!), which included Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap etc…But like so many things that started out innocently such as connecting with high school classmates you have not seen in 20 yrs turned ugly and it was not long before foreign adversary’s took note and started manipulating social media for their own benefit and detriment of the United States. In an interesting twist at the time, then President Trump chose to ignore the involvements of foreign adversaries. Anything that diminished him was unacceptable. Technology is the most hyper-competitive industry on the planet, with that in mind it forges ahead at breakneck speed only thinking of consequences when it is too late.
We are also going through big demographic changes. By now we all know that by the year 2050, based on current demographics and birthrates, white people will no longer be the majority of the US population. This is ok (I feel I need to say that). It will cause change in how we govern. If you look at the two sacred documents in the United States; The Declaration of Independence (1776) and the US Constitution (1783) they were written by white men. There were plenty of slaves at the time they just were not considered a part of the documents. As the Dred Scott decision in 1857 would teach us,if you were black you had no rights because you were not citizens. Do not get upset of your fellow Americans if they do not hold these two documents in sanctity, there is a reason. This change, feared by many should not be feared as it was the basis this country aspired to when it was created. But fear of the unknown has always created anxiety, but it will challenge us a a people and despite best efforts a wall will not prevent it.
Today we have a nation that now whispers and hints of civil war. Groups discussing secession. In Idaho there is the American Redoubt Movement, in some ways described as a movement towards a more simplistic life. In Texas some desire to be independent (may be an opportunity for Mexico to take its land back). Other groups are more extreme such as Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and a whole host of neo-Nazi type organizations. None really have a organizational structure that warrants mass public fear, but they are a regular occurance on news broadcasts. It was NY Times Columnist David Brooks who coined the term “explosive distrust”. Explosive distrust is not just that you disagree with someone’s view, it is that you view their views as illegitimate. To me that sums up where we are as a nation today. We have become so divided we cannot listen to dissenting view points. Which is exactly one of the principles this country was founded on. We are reaching a crossroads in this countries existence.
By global standards we are still a young country and one of the great experiments in human history. Can a people govern themselves? It is the question and the test of our democracy, it always has been. We are a impatient country, a product of our economic desires and lust for immediate gratification. Which is why the coming decades may be difficult. We did not get here overnight. It will take time for us to renew our belief in our nation. We have explosive and divisive issues before us, some within our control and some beyond our control . President Biden has called it “a battle for the soul of America”. That is a honest and true statement, regardless of what side of the political divide you stand with. It will be a battle that will take in all likelihood decades to resolve. It will be hard and if we descend into bloodletting and allow are divisions, anger and hate to prevail, the Constitution will die and a new America will awaken, much different than the one we have come to love, to call home. We are greater than any one individual and have never been a country looking to have one figure with absolute power, but chaos was never built on defined morality.
Good Night and Good Luck,
Hans Henrik Hoffmann
January 24, 2022