Tags: trump | partisanship | divisiveness | democracy

Will Trump Tenure Boomerang Into Resurgence of Idealism and Civility?

Will Trump Tenure Boomerang Into Resurgence of Idealism and Civility?
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House on December 19, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

By Friday, 27 December 2019 06:02 PM Current | Bio | Archive

As the New Year approaches can we thank Donald Trump because we believe he will in fact make America great again?

Or should we thank him because the Trump formula for inspiring masses of support, but also aggressing almost everyone else, will boomerang into a resurgence of belief in American idealism and civility?

This stark choice places the spotlight on the seriousness of our divisions that threaten the underpinning of a functioning democracy.

In the 10,000-odd years of human civilization, societies were organized in a pyramidal, hierarchical fashion.

It’s only been 250 years since the ideals of human rights and equality before the law have become a widely recognized standard that guides good-thinking, upright societies.

Are these 250 years, when the focus was on individual rights, an aberration, a blip bound to disappear? Or are these recent short years of division in America, and elsewhere where populism is on the rise, only a brief interlude in the American and Western European belief in governance through democratic values?

Trump and his supporters blame the Democratic Party opposition but also the press, the civil servants, the elites for the decline in the quality of life for many Americans. A great swath of American society is labeled as the enemy — an enemy more dangerous than Russia, so dangerous that we should support a change taking us back to the more efficient rule centered on the talent and fortitude of one man more capable of defending the general interest than the slower workings of existing institutions.

From the perspective of Democratic Party, there is in parallel a serious waning of confidence that even the most serious abuses of power can be, will be, sanctioned by our Electoral College system, warped, according to them, by egregious gerrymandering leading to a disproportionate undermining of the will of the majority of voters.

When not only political conviction, but even what is truth and what is fake, divides the world’s economic and political leader, we can legitimately ask whether Democracy is viable, whether in the history of mankind, we were duped into thinking that this form of government was the inevitable step for progress.

From the perspective of serious historical analysis, two observations are difficult to contradict. Equal rights as an ideal becomes more and more a principle under challenge where economic inequality at home and throughout the planet becomes more and more prevalent. When individuals have rights but a diminishing quality of life, jealousies become conflictual. In earlier forms of social organization, even if leaders were privileged, the common man’s destiny was tied to the collectivity and the enemy was from without, not within. One can ask whether the emphasis on individual rights without a corresponding improvement in the quality of life is in the final analysis a form of hypocrisy.

The strength and preponderance of democracy as an ideal form of government became widespread, the common belief, throughout much of the world because America was the model as the place blessed with the most perfect combination of natural and human resources and natural borders. Our inherent strength led to our victory in the two 20th Century world wars and built spheres of American influence to the point where, with 4.7% of the world's population, 75% of all transactions are in U.S. dollars.

And yet today where there is a consensus is that many on both the Right and Left agree that what we call the “system" has failed the average most American. Examples of problems abound: healthcare, education, economic opportunity, quality of jobs, credit card debt, poverty, dwindling infrastructure, drug use, the world's number one rank in the percentage of Americans in prison. Even given the enormous advantages that America has offered, our middle-most placed neighbor is first of all under constant pressure to finance what we and the world proclaimed as "the American way of life” — meaning a home, inexpensive food, vacations, healthcare, security, ability to finance higher college.

The elites, irrespective of political affiliation, have proven incapable of allowing the success of capitalism to benefit the population in general. One might reverse the famous Churchill speech during the Battle of Britain by saying: 'Rarely do so many owe so little to so few.'

Our collective deception has resulted in a political confrontation and stand off that we relegated to far-off countries or to our own distant troubled times in the 19th Century.

Perhaps Trump is a godsend, as many of his followers believe because he can lead us back to our former greatness by exposing our wounds and fallibilities, and reducing too much dependence on elites and institutions that were more directed at preserving their privileges of a governing class than the interests of the common man? The goal is, according to the Trump followers, worth compromising the ideals of respect for our institutions, respect for our public servants, and respect for divisiveness and difference of opinion.

Or perhaps Trump is a godsend because by going to the limit of abusive incivility and disrespect of traditional values he will incite those elements in America who believe in the historical greatest of what we achieved before Trump came to office and to rebound in their commitment to democracy, America’s institutions and public servants, and most importantly respect for divisiveness and difference of opinion. The goal, the ends can never justify means that are inconsistent with our core values.

The New Year will tell us a lot which of these wishes are more likely to be fulfilled.

Mark L. Cohen has his own legal practice, and was counsel at White & Case starting in 2001, after serving as international lawyer and senior legal consultant for the French aluminum producer Pechiney. Cohen was a senior consultant at a Ford Foundation Commission, an advisor to the PBS television program "The Advocates," and Assistant Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He teaches U.S. history at the business school in Lille l’EDHEC. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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As the New Year approaches can we thank Donald Trump because we believe he will in fact make America great again?
trump, partisanship, divisiveness, democracy
Friday, 27 December 2019 06:02 PM
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