On the first anniversary of his election, his program is deflating, and the divide keeps growing, as shown by the Virginia gubernatorial race.
Fredericksburg is 1 1/2 hours away from Washington – barring traffic. A charming little town. It is a series of single-family homes hidden in the woods, next to signs duly reporting each and every battle of the War of Secession. The War of Secession – known as the Civil War in the U.S. – is the first total war in history. At least that is what Americans claim; the French and the Germans bestow such dubious honor upon the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. That would never happen in Spain. A country only aims to be a world power when it can brag that its wars are bigger and deadlier.
In central Fredericksburg, facing a restaurant where customers are asked not to enter with firearms, there is a small, round stone with a plaque installed in 1984 that says: “Auction Block. Fredericksburg’s Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property.” The pristine Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery is a 10-minute walk from there, and it is the resting place of 3,553 men who died trying to separate their states from the U.S. Because although it is debatable whether the Civil War was the first total war, it is the only one in history that took place in order to uphold “the peculiar institution.” In other words, slavery.
Fredericksburg’s monuments have stood for years. Until now. These memorials to slavery have become the axis point of the state elections that will be held tomorrow, where voters are choosing candidates for governor, among other offices, in a race which has come to best represent the condition in the U.S. one year since Donald Trump’s election.
The election in Virginia is a much better representation of the political situation in the U.S. than any document, opinion poll or opinion piece. In an interview with this journal on Thursday, the Indian-British-American author Salman Rushdie said, “the United States is a very torn country.”* Among other reasons, it is torn because the only way to win an election is by dividing the voters.
In order to see how broken the U.S. is, one must pay attention to three [sic] names in the Virginia race: Terry McAuliffe, Ed Gillepsie, Ken Cucchinelli, and Ralph Northam, and to secondary characters – at least for once – George H.W. Bush, his son, George W. Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Terry McAuliffe is the outgoing governor. A Clinton man 100 percent. A fundraising machine. A centrist, for whom the two most important things are power and loyalty to Bill Clinton – and, by extension, to Hillary, albeit to a lesser degree. And an arrogant man. Amid all the controversy about the Confederate monuments literally carpeting Virginia, McAuliffe has said one thing, and then its opposite. In June 2015, after a white supremacist killed nine black parishioners at a church in the neighboring state of South Carolina, he banned license plates from bearing the Confederate flag or other rebel symbols, but also said, “[L]eave the statues and those things alone.” Last Aug. 27, after a person was killed during the hostilities in the neighboring city of Charlottesville – also in Virginia, 1 1/2 hours to the west of Fredericksburg – that were sparked by the removal of a statue of Southern Gen. Robert E. Lee, McAuliffe told CNN that the monuments should be removed. Neither yes or no, but quite the contrary. Pure Clintonism.
The Republican candidate to succeed McAuliffe is Ed Gillespie. Trump’s antithesis. He is McAuliffe’s counterpart, but from the other party. A technocrat with the charm of an amoeba. The best example of his weakness was the primary for the nomination. Ken Cuccinelli, an ultraconservative “Trumpist,” almost snatched victory from McAuliffe with a populist message that the voters appeared to prefer over the cold technocracy of Gillespie, a personal friend and as close to George W. Bush as McAuliffe was to Clinton.**
In the end, Gillespie won. But he was wounded. He had no chance of defeating the Democratic candidate, Ralph Northam, a center-left candidate and a veteran of the armed forces who was McAuliffe’s natural successor.
Until the monuments issue showed up. And with it, crime and immigration. That has been Gillespie’s trump card, and he succeeded in obtaining Donald Trump’s endorsement: “Strong on crime, he might even save our great statues/heritage!” the president tweeted two weeks ago. Since the summer, Gillespie’s campaign has focused on illegal immigration, fighting crime and the permanence of the rebel monuments. Meanwhile, Northam’s campaign has wavered. If the candidate supports the removal of those monuments, as Northam did until August, he loses a large segment of white voters. If he prefers leaving that decision to the town halls, as he has said since September, he runs the risk that the white left and a large number of African-Americans will stay at home tomorrow.***
The divide in the U.S. brought Trump to power, the split among the electorate over symbols representing each person’s own identity. Alongside that, it makes little difference that the commerce secretary was once more accused of having financial ties to companies belonging to people close to Vladimir Putin, or that the brother of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has also received Russian money for his business activities. Similarly, it does not matter that black movements such as the famous Black Lives Matter movement are overtly racist, or that illegal immigrants go to demonstrations with Mexican flags. Citizens vote with their hearts. And, one year after his victory, Trump presides over a United States with its heart broken into two halves that are not on speaking terms.
*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.
**Editor’s note: Although Ken Cuccinelli was considered a frontrunner for the 2017 Republican nomination for governor, he announced in early 2016 that he would not seek the nomination. The author may be referring to Corey Stewart, who lost the Republican primary with 42.5 percent of the vote compared to Ed Gillespie’s 43.7 percent.
***Editor’s note: On Dec. 7, 2017, Northam defeated Gillespie in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.