After Trump lost the 2020 election and refused to concede, America seemed more divided than ever. In one way that was true. A record number of votes were cast for both the Democractic and Republican candidates. But beneath that divide, America was more united than ever.
In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote but took the Electoral College votes of the midwestern states in part because he played to their “forgotten” status in the overall image of America. That image was based on media criteria for covering activities considered to be of national interest. Not only were news networks located mainly in New York but the economic and political drivers of American life were located on the East Coast. Cultural drivers were located on both coasts. The other parts of the country became newsworthy only when crime was horrific or the weather brought disaster. The 2020 election campaignin a Covid year changed that dynamic.
In 2020, all states could become newsworthy at any moment because of the Covid pandemic and the way Trump handled the disaster in an election year. One by one, states like Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona, Geeorge, Florida and Texas emerged and entered into the national consciousness of a country forced to pay attention during successive lockdowns. The Trump penchant for holding rallies in swing states that could flip in his favour further brought notice to locales formerly known only as part of a region such as the Midwest, South or Sunbelt. Finally, the crises that ensued in wake of those rallies began a whole new round in the news cycle circuit, particularly in relation to color.
Historially in America, color referred to racial distinctions. Since the 2000 election in which the Supreme Court handed the presidential win to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore, Red and Blue have come to indicate the party most likely elected by a state. According to Wikipedia, most states were technically Purple in that the population overall was a mix of Republicans and Democrats. The Red or Blue designation was based on the all-for-one nature of the Electoral College. All Electoral votes went to the party with the most votes in an election, which brought in a critical urban/rural divide still notable in most states.
Under Trump, racial elements became subsumed into the political make-up of a state. Since most property was owned by whites, blacks and other minorities tended to migrate to urban areas. That urban\rural divide was most successfully exploited by Trump when he first entered politics in 2016. He was an East Coast renegade under the Republican banner who targeted Democratic Blue states with depressed economies. Most of those states still had vast rural areas and major cities with large minority populations, a combination ready-made for a divide and conquer offensive.
Trump won the Midwest with promises that failed to deliver. Jobs heralded as returning were hyped and followed up with a few short-lived early successes while actual jobs dried up and factories closed. Deluded solid urban Midwesterners grumbled along with rural neighbors whose farms were decimated by Trump trade wars. Those stories were covered by the Trump-maligned media, which put a human face on the disappointment even as tax cuts to the super-wealthy drowned the impact of the pittance tossed to the middle class, particularly when trickle-down expectations turned up empty. Meanwhile, the plight of Midwest States blended with newfound challenges posed in the Southern border states where the Trump Wall and his immigration policy created a brand new kind of schism.
Catchy as campaign slogans, the “Wall’ and “tough on immigrants” cants were duds in practice. The Wall was an ecological and community disaster. The anti-immigrant policy with its ICE raids ended in images of fathers ripped from families and children torn from parents, sobbing alone in cages with not even attendants to give them comfort. Even anti-immigrants in the nation as a whole were incensed by the barbarity toward Hispanics, which brought attention to the variations in the country’s many Hispanic groups. The empathic response to basic human injustice blasted into worldwide outrage when black George Floyd was murdered by a white politce officer in plain public view as caught on videotape.
In response to the George Floyd murder, Trump said it was terrible but that more whites died at the hands of police than blacks. Not only was the claim untrue, it was an indication of just how underhandedly Trump assaulted basic human dignity. He gave the expected lip service of his office oto to betray at the same time his true attitude devoid of empathy. Indeed, throughout the 2020 Covid election year, the level of empathy that a person could summon became the primary characteristic that both divided and unified the country’s diverse population.
Way back in about 500 b.c. Confucius outlined the three paths to wisdom. Contemplation was the most noble. Imitation was the easiest; and experience was the most bitter.As a product of all three paths, empathy played a major role in driving the response to Trump’s handling of the Covid pandemic. Those able to identify with the feelings of others were apt to comply with guidelines to mitigate effects of the Covid disaster. Those unable or unwilling to feel the pain of others were most likely Trump fans who preferred mode of self-expression was rageful defiance.
By Confucian standards, Trump was not a wise man. He bragged that he did not contemplate. boasting that he knew more than “the generals” and called doctors “morons” who didn’t know anything. Those were signs he found no one worth imitating. By all accounts, his experience was limited to wheedling money out of others and conniving press coverage. Thus by extension of Confucian standards, it was safe to say Trump was devoid of empathy. Explicit evidence backed up the supposition.
While visiting a relief center after the deadly hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Trump threw paper towels to victims hoping to hear words of comfort from the US president in charge of the US Territory. When reviled for the crass insult, Trump defended himself by saying they were “beautiful soft towels. Very good towels.” Such a level of insensitivity could appeal only to those who were already overburdened even before Covid hit. And perhaps because of the strong bond between the embittered and their fantasy redeemer, Trump supporters followed his directives on Covid.
Trump at first downplayed the pandemic, reassuring Americans that it would disappear like magic. When his exhortations failed to jump start an economy brought to a halt by mounting contagion and death toll, he turned the virus and the mitigatating measures to control it into political weapons for the forthcoming 2020 election.
Even as it unfolded, 2020 was destined to go down in history as a singular period of uncertainty, isolation, fear and social alienation. Particularly in an over-active America led by a hyperactive president, quarantine was a remedy tantamount to torture. But the enforced solitude leavened by news of the outside world gave occasion for Americans to realize just how stratified was their society, not just in pockets but across the board.
Pandemic lockdowns made clear that Covid affected everyone but that most were more affected than the affluent. “Essential workers” braved the virus to keep society functioning while others stayed safe. In that newly dawned reality, the George Floyd murder was an exlosive device that fused the racial, social and political components of government irrevocably.
In the long months after Covid hit, Trump emerged as a desperate man at a loss on how to proceed. Expressing no concern for people or their health, he pushed for markers of economic recovery while downplaying the virus with light–hearted quick fix tips that backfired when delivered with the presidential seal of authority. In response to racial inequity protests, he condemned left-leaning agitators. Those social contortions were downright painful to many, but the base held that he was doing fine and no one could have done better in a situation beyond his control. Taking note of the base, Republicans lined up behind Trump.
Viruses had not been considered intractable since the Middle Ages. The taming of pathogens had been a major focus of science ever since the Black Death killed 200 million people in the space of four years during the 14th century. Since then, smallpox and polio had been conquered. But Trump and his Republican enablers managed to convince a large minority of Americans to simply let Covid run its course. In the Trump crowd, that tactic was a call for hateful defiance.
The number of hate groups had been on the increase ever since the 2008 election of Obama as the first non-white president of the western industrialized world. Into that volatile arena, Trump threw a conflation of freedom with defiance with Covid mitigating measures as the object to be hated and defied to the point of death. “Liberate Michigan,” he directed a white nationalist group planning to kidnap and assassinate the Democratic governor of swing state Michigan, one of the many with complex power structures due to principle of states’ rights.
America has been widely viewed as a democracy based on the principles expressed in its founding Constitution. Technically it was most commonly considered a federal republic, meaning that a central government held together all 50 states that remained autonomous under the federal umbrella. Thus, states made their own laws about local elections, which included the positions that oversaw the federal elections for president and Congressional representatives. That was the vulnerability Trump targeted in the highly unusual 2020 election.
Throughout the messy 2020 presidential campaign, poll numbers of both candidates dovetailed with updates on Covid, news about natural disasters, racial protests, protests about masks and alarms about supply shortages, unemployment and stimulus stalemates. Not muddled enough,Trump began early to throw shade on mail-in voting and voter fraud. Then came the Postal Service scandal with slow-dows of service, and the unevenly conducted Decennial Census which would determine Congressional representation for the next ten years. Those factors combined with stimulus payments, increased unemployment benefits and small business relief. The result was that Americans began to realize that the larger issues of government had a direct effect on their lives.
To the hatefully defiant Trump crowd, the dependence on the government was the sign of a creeping socialism that would destroy the American spirit of liberty. In the wild west of the loosely regulated web network, they plotted, grew and connected. Meanwhile, mainstream America depended on news from the left, right and free-wheeling social media. But since personal bias selected the source, facts were drowned in skewed coverage. Thus, when Trump spoke from the presidential pulpit, his words were accepted or derided for the views expressed with presidential seal of approval. Thrown into a frenzy by mixed messaging, America provided an opening for the premonance of its fringe extremes.
Utra-extremists such as Qanon and militias were a small part of the population but they were loud, sinister and deadly with their brandishing of uncontrolled arms. Woven into the American tradition of independence and a romance with the outlaw, America’s fringe was convenient tool for Trump planning his own campaign of claiming voter fraud in preparation for losing the election and the presidency he may have felt he had not won fairly in the first place. That suspicion was best proved by the aftermath of the 2020 election.
When Trump became president in 2016. the result was dismay by the American majority followed by four years of protests. When Joe Biden won the 2020 election, the results were contested strenuously by the Trump camp and yet no fraud could be found. When Biden was safely sworn in as new president, celebrations went up not only in America but the world over. During the two-month transition period in which Trump refused to cooperate, the absurdity of Trump as head of the United States became starkly clear.
For four years. the greatest democracy in the world was headed by a full-blown demagogue who refused to cede power when defeated in an election that was fair by every electoral and legal measure. Further, he not only refused to leave the office he lost, he hounded the country with frivolous lawsuits while purging those who refused to corrupt the system on his behalf. Worst of all, he was hell-bent on obstructing the path of his successor who was bursting to tame the pandemic and restore America to its core values.
While, independence was an essential component of America’s character, so were the interdependency skills that allowed the Pioneers to expand and tame the Wild West Empathy born of wisdom was one of those. Trump and the pandemic had given America an opportunity to contemplate, emulate and experience first-hand the suffering of others. In short, America was growing wise to a rock bottom reality.
Despite all his bluster and distortion of American Constitution justice, Trump lacked one key quality for being either a leader or a hero. Despite his iron grip on the hearts of his adherents, none of them ever said that they wanted their kids to grow up just like him.