Money is identity and money is the glue to globalization. Nations divide as they fight over the goods. Today, the U.S faces political divide due to a battle over the framework of national identity. We see social cohesion breaking down as people fight over the ownership of national character.
Shall we view the 2016 presidential race through this lens? Americans are voting based on a lack of ownership over ‘the wealth’ but are also consumed by the image of the flag. Whether we like it or not, we are entering a world where standing for a flag will not provide wealth and attempts at redefining national sovereignty will continue to cause political frustration.
In America and the world at large, there is a deepening schism between how individuals define themselves within the traditional definitions of nationalism and how they view themselves in the context of regional political conglomerates. Modern multilateral institutions, like the EU, are failing to provide an adaptive socio-political identity for common people, especially when the economic benefits of such organizations have not been equal amongst nations.
This trend has also emerged in the United States with a national battle ensuing over the definitional character of the Constitution and the degree to which it arbitrates American political culture. In both America and Europe, the essence of identity is contracting inwards as regional and global institutions are collectivizing wealth (and jobs) outwards.
Thus, new patterns of wealth are being centered on the creation of globally aligned centers of power, leaving little to be gained by average people. In the United States and Europe, economic insecurity has led to socio-national fracturing on a foundational level. The world may be getting smaller due to wealth integration (mostly in the hands of a few), but average people are left feeling disconnected to both their country and their place in the world.
Globalization is breaking down traditional nation-states and most people are not ready for the aftermath. Do we have to choose between nation and wealth? If we cannot balance this question, actors such as Donald Trump will continue to take advantage of the fears of average voters and hijack this precarious but transitional moment of the modern era.
Orlando: Politics of Despair and Disparity
Our political conscience is now being defined by uncertainties over identity and security. Events of the past few weeks have caused a whirlwind so all encompassing that the political trajectory of this nation has become embroiled in a sense of peril. From the showboating of a Trump vs. Hillary contest to the recent shootings in Orlando, the United States has officially entered an era of civil disunity.
Most people are confused, scared, and possess a disquieting anger. Americans of all creeds and colors feel an uprooting from what it means to be an American. We have yet to truly define this new post-Cold War era we are living in as we waver within the transition period we are currently experiencing. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump understand this very well and are using this politically unstable period to garner votes for the American presidency. They use language that encodes a sense of victimhood and fear in their voting blocs.
In addition, the media is using our majoritarian democracy to pit ethnic and political groups against one another by facilitating the usage of oppositional dialectics. There is no consensus on how we speak about terrorism, gun reform, sexual/gender identity, or minority rights.
The language we use to define and understand major topics of disagreement has become a part of the problem. For example, Donald Trump has succeeded on a campaign of rallying against the ‘political correctness’ of society (which he sees as enabled by the Left). For example, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” he said,
“Everybody wants to be so politically correct and they want to do what is right and afraid to do anything. The words are killing us, political correctness.”
“Well, I think profiling is something that we’re going to have to start thinking about as a country and other countries do it. You look at Israel you look at others, they do it. They do it successfully. I hate the concept of profiling, but we have to start using common sense and we have to use — use our heads… We really have to look at profiling. We have to look at is seriously.”
Trump is using the emotional political atmosphere caused by the mass causality event in Orlando to justify the marginalization of political enemies. People in opposing groups can feel empowered to point a finger at an ensuing offender, but can also feel fear of becoming a future victim of criminal profiling.
If anti-political correctness is elevated over the rulings and precedents we have for the protection of rights within customary judicial law, it is possible that we can allow democracy to turn into a vicious form of mob rule. The continued allowance of an anarchic mindset in American society where political correctness is the enemy will eventually create an environment where First Amendment limitations on hate speech are negatively altered. This has the ability to reshape the customary foundation of American political culture and eventually its institutions.
Compounding this problem is the fact that Donald Trump intentionally leaves open the interpretation of political correctness. Both an offensive and offended group can feel compelled to see themselves as a victim, thus allowing each group to act upon a more emotional component of their psyche. For example, the recent massacre in Orlando has elicited the most contemptuous political environment in modern American history. In an interview with Fox News talk show Fox and Friends, Trump spoke about President Obama by saying,
“Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind – you know, people cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable.”
Not only does this statement appease to the base interests of hostile groups traditionally opposed to the Obama Presidency, but also has the ability to plant a seed in the mind of the average voter as to if the president has been criminally complicit in supporting terrorist activities for eight years. When Obama supporters and/or left-leaning group listen to this statement, they hear a criminal incitement against a Democratic president. This can be seen as akin to an all encompassing attack on not only their political beliefs, but on the legitimacy for the political Left to hold the office of presidency.
The right-wing gets away with viewing the president as a terrorist sympathizer as the left-wing is left feeling stripped of power. For the sake casting out ‘political correctness,’ Donald Trump is doing great damage to American civil society. He is steadily using the boundary lines of legal speech and using it to damage the last remnants of traditional political culture in America. This is a very dangerous precedent in political rhetoric and if left unchecked, will erode the customary civil contract Americans and their leaders hold with one another.
An additional problem is that Democrats and Republicans have reached the point where a debate with each other is an unfeasible task. The recent shooting in Orlando provides another good example of just how bad the discourse has become. What we currently know is that a Muslim-American man went into a LGBTQ nightclub and killed 50 people. The realm of common definitional aptitude stops there as the right-wing views this as an Islamic terrorist attack while the left-wing views this as another mass shooting due to lenient gun laws.
Facts have been warped into uber-politicized narratives where language is used as a menacing sword instead of a bridge to negotiation.
Also laced in this is the identity politics of race as Muslim-Americans feel demonized and the LGBTQ community feels victimized. Republicans (and mostly Trump voters) view this incident as a terrorism related security issue and place blame on President Obama due to his unwillingness to define Islam as a national threat.
To make matters worse, there is no consensus as to whether this was a case of domestic (homegrown) terrorism or transnational terrorism with links to foreign groups, or to whether it was a hate crime under criminal law. How we define this incident helps to appropriate justice and a sense of closure for all the parties involved.
Unfortunately justice will continue to be an underserved and vague concept to the broader American public due to our inability to agree on legal definitions. Society will become more fractured each time justice becomes more politicized. With this horrific event being labeled our second 9/11, it is not hard to see why socio-political fault lines are rapidly increasing between Republicans and Democrats. The steady erosion of American civil society will have lasting negative effects on the contours of our national character.