James Carville, longtime political commentator had this to say on Morning Joe (11.7.2016):
"I'm not sure the country wants to be pulled together. I'm not sure the people who are voting for Trump want to be pulled together with the people who are voting for Clinton and vice versa…It is almost a country…going into different camps.”The fact that we are a divided country is not news. The fact that we want to be is. Carville has rightly understood that in an era of identity politics, self-esteem, and complexity, we cannot afford to integrate, join forces, or become part of the melting pot. It is no surprise that women, gays, Latinos, transsexuals, and blacks are all fighting for traction in an unforgiving competitive society.
While joining forces into one, large, all-encompassing minority rights group might make sense in traditional political terms – large lobby groups like AARP are powerful players in the Congressional game – such a merger among minority groups would serve to submerge individual identities, dilute the force of individual manifestos, and deny partisan enthusiasts a chance to express their anger, resentment, and specific demands.
The argument, however, must be taken one step further. Belonging to a group, particularly one which has been put-upon, ignored, or oppressed, adds value to lives which lived individually have little meaning.
It is one thing to be an individual living a life of few rewards, trapped in a dysfunctional community, working at a low-paying, entry-level, no-future job; but another thing altogether to be part of a movement that uses race, gender, and ethnicity to legitimize minority demands, that acknowledges the value and worth of those without equality and respect, and collectively fights for retribution and justice.
There is a heroism in such membership. Lives can be transformed through such righteous activism. Minor moral, ethical, and civil dereliction are nothing compared to the redemptive nature of collective rectitude. Maintenance workers can be caporegimes. The unemployed – victims of an exploitative, rapacious elite – can become officers in paramilitary actions against the police. Illegal immigrants can gain the immediate social legitimacy that the system denies. They can be on the front lines of protest and share both their ethnicity and their oppression with their brothers.
Intellectual support for these oppressed minorities also confers a certain and special legitimacy. Professors who join in lockstep with their street comrades gain self-esteem through their support of progressive causes on campus. They encourage identification with the marginalized and oppressed and through their purging of the intellectual and social environment on formerly racist and sexist campuses become political as well as academic leaders.
Those Americans who are neither particularly marginalized nor oppressed, can still enhance their self-worth and social importance by joining activist groups. Saving the planet from climate change and the environmental depredation of corporate greed - those who overfish, despoil sensitive estuaries, clear-cut virgin forests, cage poultry, inject livestock, and carelessly dispose of waste – is a religious mission.
The missionary nature of such causes is another reason why joining hands with like-minded people is unattractive. The zeal with which social activists promote their causes makes them diffident at best to joint ventures. While environmentalists are all believers in the importance of action, most have their particular axe to grind. Some are disgusted by the despoiling of rivers and streams by corporate indifference. Others worry about catastrophe – the rupture of a major pipeline, an oil spill in protected waters, the incineration of timberlands because of global warming. Still others chafe at the constant urban sprawl which co-opts wilderness and wetlands.
To merge within a larger environmental movement because its membership, financing, and political power might do more for the planet than the individual efforts which are a part, is missing the point. The true believer, the social missionary, the reformer has joined the struggle for personal reasons; and to deprive him of the particular and special identity that belong to a specific, special interest group would be to neuter him.
Nothing is more expressive of this need to belong than today’s national politics. In our highly segmented, divisive, interest-oriented era of identity, it is no surprise that the lines have been drawn so dramatically between the two presidential candidates who in terms of political philosophy are poles apart. Donald Trump represents a radical populism fueled by middle class resentment of the Washington Establishment whose incestuous cabal of politicians, lobbyists, wealthy donors, and unprincipled media are destructive and antithetical to the Founding Fathers’ vision of individualism, liberty, and rights.
Hillary Clinton represents the traditional liberal elite which believes in big government, social programs, and the championing of race, gender, and ethnicity – in other words the perpetuation of the very cabal so hated by Trump supporters. In order to engineer the social reforms that progressives want, government will have to grow, not shrink. University campuses – the crucibles in which intellectual leaders are formed – must be purged of all anti-social sentiments, speech and behavior. The Supreme Court must be returned to activism and support progressive causes.
At the core of this division is a fundamental philosophical difference in the two camps. Conservatives believe in the ineluctability of human nature, assume venality, greed, and arrogation of power; and feel that the only way to right the wrongs of the past is through a revolutionary return of power to the people.
Progressives believe that human nature can be overcome and that a better world is indeed possible. There need by no such thing as the conservatives’ endless cycle of political birth and rebirth, wars, and defense of territory and resources.
Once again political partisanship is more than a civic choice. It confers legitimacy, social status, and self-esteem. Angry Trump supporters may not be able to articulate their anger, but they know that they all share it. Trump means defiance of arrogated authority, academic elitism, and class.
Passionate Hillary supporters care less about her policies and programs but about her sex and her commitment to the progressive causes – abortion, women’s rights, gay marriage, social justice, anti-poverty programs, international negotiation and reason, and a fight for environmental sanity.
Of course the two camps don’t want to conciliate, to find middle ground, or to compromise. To do so would not only be giving up a political philosophy but individual, hard-fought identity.
No society has every made much of communalism; and if they have – like the Soviet Union, China, and European Socialists – they have quickly abandoned it. Political leaders, royalty, and commoners alike understand that human nature is in fact ineluctable, hard-wired, and persistent. We can’t help ourselves when we fight for traction, turf, power, and wealth. Belonging to identity groups – regardless of their size and relative importance – is part of the competitive, Darwinian process of evolution. Compromise and cooperation are not in our genes, and if we have to work together, we do so only because it is the only means to achieving at least a portion of our ends.
So James Carville has hit the nail on the head. There is no turning back from this election or from 2016 America. What we see today is simply a more energized, angry, public display of individualism, identity politics, and human nature.