Ideological Civil War over Life in America



Two weeks ago, 72 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump saw in him the embodiment of an approach which aims to create distance from the influence of federal government. In contrast, those who voted for Joe Biden want to see the people in the United States as a single human tapestry. In essence it is a war between bees and wolves.

Last June, Mark and Patricia McCloskey were surprised to see impassioned protest outside their lovely property in one of St. Louis’ fancy neighborhoods. The couple, lawyers by profession, went outside armed with an M-16 and a pistol and threatened the protesters, demanding they leave. Although no one came onto their property, the fact that the crowds came close was enough to stir the couple to action. The McCloskeys were unwittingly photographed waving their weapons around and became instant media stars. The footage made its way to the news columns and renewed the roiling public American conversation about the tension between Black and white people, between citizens and police, between the left and the right, all subjects which were on the media’s agenda leading up to the election. But one thing seemed to escape notice: the daily life of Americans.

American society is torn apart and divided, and this condition is exemplified at the local level by the McCloskey incident and at the national level by a setting of racism, police violence, and admiration for as well as opposition to Donald Trump. This ideological civil war is bitter and profound, and it had already received national media attention before the election in the passionate confrontations between the progressive branch of the Democratic Party on the left and the white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations on the right.

These two opposing sides dictated the national conversation and inspired voters to head in one direction or the other; although the defining American controversy is basically over a vision of a way of life. On one hand, you have those Americans who see themselves as a part of a single human tapestry. On the other, there are Americans who see themselves as a discrete group of individuals in a war for survival, with every man for himself. In the American political jungle of 2020, we don’t talk about donkeys versus elephants, but rather bees versus wolves; social animals who survive through active cooperation and interdependence versus those who are focused only on themselves and their own living space.

Liberals frame support for Trump as racism, misogyny and fascism. These claims are not completely unrealistic, but they don’t explain how 72 million Americans voted for him, among them many African Americans and Latinos. The paradox missing in this picture is that many citizens, the McCloskeys among them (they were applauded by Trump), vote for representatives of governmental institutions in order to distance themselves from these same institutions and the commitments which they imply.

Trump embodies this approach; he is a president who was chosen to stand at the head of the establishment so that he could break it apart from within. Sometimes it seems that his only motivation to preserve any kind of administrative structure is so that he can stay at the top of the pyramid and enjoy the privileges that go with it.

Minimal government influence on the private life of the individual is a good idea, but it also offers protection to scoundrels, swindlers, tax evaders, environmental polluters and neo-Nazis. In this climate, they also have been allowed to do whatever they want; it’s a Wild West mentality.

Lowered taxes, deregulation, cancellation of international agreements and other Trump initiatives were meant to make it possible for individuals to do what they wanted. Long-term planning, infrastructure, public services and other governmental functions were abandoned to the joy of the Floridians, Idahoans and MIssourians who do not see any importance In mutual cooperation. They live in private houses and they have a couple of pickup trucks to navigate to work or to shop in Walmart. Community life? There’s church on Sunday.

We are talking about a completely different routine from that of people who live in New York, Philadelphia and Houston, for example, who find themselves in constant contact with those around them, in the stairwell of the building, on public transportation and in the supermarket. Social cohesion is part of the experience of basic urban existence — in school, in the hospital, in the theater, in the library, in your favorite Chinese, Polish or Afghan restaurant. Not to mention the drive-through culture of the other America, where you don’t even have to get out of your vehicle in order to eat.

The individualistic way of life that many Americans have achieved over the past four years has been disrupted by the outbreak of the coronavirus. Suddenly, the idea of the single human tapestry, in which the virus so easily spreads, became a challenge for a society of individuals who try to think only about themselves.

Trump’s failure to manage the health crisis should have brought about utter defeat in the election. But why did so many people vote for him? Not from any ideological motivation, but out of a real fear that another leader would force them to go into another lockdown and would bring their incomes to an end. Economics was and is the most important thing — a life and death matter for them, even if it endangers others. The coronavirus was the central topic on their agenda, but it was based on concern about how it threatened their financial status, all the while denying the tragedy that it was bringing to American society as a whole. Trump made it possible for them to continue as usual under the illusion of a routine and doing whatever they wanted, come what may, pandemic or no pandemic.

It is natural to analyze political conflicts through ideological glasses, but in today’s United States, the election was about the soul of the nation. Everything revolves around the question of who a true American is. On the one hand you have Trump and his selfish, narcissistic, territorial supporters who worship a grab-as-much-as-you-can culture (things, usually, but sometimes even body parts) while remaining holed up in their houses and alienating themselves from others. On the other hand, you have those who see society as a human tapestry which one integrates into and leans on, and to which one both gives and receives.. This is not a theoretical worldview but rather a way of life, and it is not going to change that much under Biden.

The mass rioting that broke out in the big cities, along with the Black Lives Matter demonstrates, were not carried out by reasonable protesters but rather by criminals who saw an opportunity and attacked. They did not vote for the Democrats. Actually, they didn’t vote at all. They simply wanted to do their own thing, like every other citizen in Trump’s America — whether in the restless streets of Manhattan or within the private individual domain of an upscale suburb of St. Louis.

P.S. In researching the McCloskey couple we found that they are involved in a bitter dispute with their neighbors and with their local administration. In addition to all the trouble, they also are accused of destroying a beehive that was placed in the courtyard of a nearby synagogue and which was being used for educational activities for the children of the community. It seems that wolves really have something against bees. Possibly also against Jews?

Amir Bogen is a Ynet writer based in New York.

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