“United we stand, divided we fall” – John Dickinson, July 1768
“Divide and conquer” – attributed to Philip of Macedonia
“A house divided against itself cannot stand” – Abraham Lincoln, June 1858
Regardless of whether you are republican or democrat, conservative or liberal, I am asking you today to suspend disbelief for a few minutes and give some thought to an idea that awakened me this morning.
The great divide, as I have called it for the past year, has been in the making for nearly a decade, having its origins, I believe, in the formation of the “Tea Party movement” which appeared to be mainly a response to the election of the nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama. Throughout President Obama’s two terms, there was push and then push-back, until the divide widened and then widened some more. Already, by 2015, any political discussion was likely to turn into a hostile argument, Congress was rendered ineffective by extreme partisanship, friends and families parted ways, and the nation was primed for one of two things: a large-scale catastrophe that would bring the people together again, or a manipulator who would further widen the gap between ideologies. Enter Donald Trump.
While I do not credit Trump with a large amount of intelligence, I do credit him with being devious, for it is what he has spent his life doing. And he had some help from at least one autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin, who is intelligent as well as devious. It turned out to be a winning combination for Trump, though a losing one for the people of the United States.
Donald Trump quickly realized that the most polarizing issue in the U.S. was immigration, and his entire campaign revolved around that issue. He had people chanting “build that wall”, while others were protesting at his rallies in support of human rights. He claimed we would ban Muslims, for they were terrorists, and we would keep out Mexicans, for they were ‘rapists and murderers’. At its core, the immigration debate is not, as Trump has claimed, about either the economy or national security. At its core, the immigration debate is about racism, pure and simple. Donald Trump played his cards well. And we became ever more divided.
Congress, having a republican majority in both the House and the Senate, is also divided, but in recent weeks, there have been some signs that members of Congress are willing to reach across the aisle and work together, for the health care debacle proved that without some bi-partisan effort, nothing could be accomplished. This was good news for the nation, good news for the people, but bad news for Donald Trump, for his goal is to keep them apart, to keep them fighting on every issue. And so, he reached out to Schumer and Pelosi, knowing that such a move would anger the far right, the radical elements in his own party. He never intended, I think, to actually follow through in efforts to work with the democrats, and that, from his perspective, was the beauty of the plan. He annoys a good portion of his own party, then turns 180 degrees around and makes demands that are contrary to what he discussed with Schumer and Pelosi, thus annoying the democrats.
If there is one thing Donald Trump understands, it is how to bring out the worst in people, how to pit them against one another.
I began this post with three quotations that I turn to now.
“United we stand, divided we fall” – Patrick Henry used this phrase in his last public speech, saying “United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.”
“Divide and conquer” – the key elements of which are: creating and encouraging divisions to prevent alliances; fostering distrust and enmity; and encouraging meaningless expenditures that reduce the capability for other things. Immanuel Kant, in his Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, cited three political maxims for an autocrat: Divide et impera – divide and conquer; Fac et excusa – Act now, and make excuses later; and Si fecisti, nega – when you commit a crime, deny it. Trump has done all three of these to one extent or another.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand” – The North and the South had come to hold distinct opinions in the question of slavery, and now the issue had come to permeate every other political question. Lincoln believed that unless the issue of slavery was resolved soon, the Union would no longer be able to function.
This is not the first time our nation has been so divided, however it is, I believe, the first time that our divisions are being manipulated by one person for the purpose of increasing the power of the presidency at the cost of reducing the power of the people. Yes, we still have the vote, but Trump is taking steps to manipulate that, also, with his voter fraud commission that, given the people who are in charge of the commission, seems likely to remove many, perhaps millions, from the voter registration rolls.
I said early on that Trump would not like the confines of the office of president, that he would not like the congressional oversight and the rules that bind his office. I believed then, as I do now, that his goal is and has always been, to be a ruler rather than a leader. I cannot predict the outcome, for I still have hopes that the system of checks and balances will hold, that the people will begin to awaken and see what is happening to this nation, and that Trump will be removed from office before his power is such that he cannot be removed. That is my hope. The end result depends on each and every one of us.