The Trump Divide Grows Wider

As the president moves from controversy to controversy, supporters are embracing him all the harder and detractors are growing more feverish in their opposition

From the moment he rode down the escalator at his eponymous Fifth Avenue skyscraper to announce his candidacy three years ago, President Donald Trump has divided Americans.

But the Trump Divide is growing wider and deeper.

As Mr. Trump moves from controversy to controversy, views of the president, pro and con, are hardening, with supporters embracing him more enthusiastically and detractors growing more feverish in their opposition. The middle ground, never very populous, now looks as sparse as a flower bed in February.

.. Certainly Mr. Trump seems disinclined to give ground to his detractors in hopes of winning them over. Rather, he often seems to do the reverse—show that he is prepared to antagonize them further.

After an eruption of criticism over his unwillingness to publicly criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin at their Helsinki summit meeting this month, for example, Mr. Trump backtracked slightly—but then promptly slammed into forward gear again by inviting Mr. Putin to another summit in the U.S. this fall. If that left his critics sputtering, well, that seems to be the way Mr. Trump likes them

.. “The more Mr. Trump gets criticized by the media, the more his base seems to rally behind him,” says Democratic pollster Fred Yang.

.. A remarkable 88% of self-identified Republicans say they approve of the job he is doing, the highest share within a president’s own party at this stage of a presidency since President George W. Bush’s standing after the 9/11 terror attacks.

.. the share of Americans who say they strongly approve of Mr. Trump’s job performance rose to 29%, the highest mark so far.

.. At the same time, though, the strength of those pro-Trump feelings is more than matched by the intensity of anti-Trump sentiments. Some 52% of voters overall disapprove of the job he is doing, and a stunning 44% say they strongly disapprove.

..  it’s impossible to discount the extent to which a strong economy buys Mr. Trump support and forbearance. Politically, steady job growth can paper over many other doubts—though that also means economic deterioration would be especially dangerous for the president.

.. The core Trump support group always has combined

  • those drawn to him for economic reasons (a belief the global economy and its rules are stacked against them), as well as
  • those who are drawn to him for cultural reasons (a feeling that Mr. Trump shares their view that society’s elites, immigrants and liberals are combining to hijack their traditional lifestyle).

 

Richard Rohr Meditation: Another Power

We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.

[As Christians,] it is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. . . . “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). [3]

Parker Palmer broadens this shared responsibility to those of other faiths:

All three traditions [Christianity, Judaism, and Islam] are misunderstood because some of their alleged adherents engage in hateful and violent behavior that distorts and defies the values they claim to represent. At their core, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and all of the major world religions are committed to compassion and hospitality. . . . In this fact lies the hope that we might reclaim their power to help reweave our tattered civic fabric. [4]

The Hebrew prophets, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed first appear to be “nothing,” outside the system, and really of no consequence. But like leaven and yeast, their much deeper power rises, again and again, in every age, while kings, tyrants, and empires change and pass away.

I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he’s dangerous

Jordan has studied and understands authoritarian demagogic leaders. They know how to attract a following. In an interview with Ethan Klein in an H3 Podcast, Jordan describes how such leaders learn to repeat those things which make the crowd roar, and not repeat those things that do not. The crowd roared the first time Jordan opposed the so-called “transgender agenda.” Perhaps they would roar again, whether it made sense or not.

.. Jordan cites Carl Jung, who talked about the effectiveness of powerful emotional oratorical skills to tap into the collective unconscious of a people, and into their anger, resentment, fear of chaos and need for order. He talked about how those demagogic leaders led by acting out the dark desires of the mob.

.. Consciously or not, Jordan may have understood that transgender people tap into society’s “collective unconscious” and would become a lightning rod for attention loaded with anger and resentment. And it did.

.. when questioned about the merits of 12 Rules for Life, Jordan answered that he must be doing something right because of the huge response the book has received. How odd given what he said in that same interview about demagogues and cheering crowds.

.. I have no way of knowing whether Jordan is aware that he is playing out of the same authoritarian demagogue handbook that he himself has described. If he is unaware, then his ironic failure, unwillingness, or inability to see in himself what he attributes to them is very disconcerting.

.. Calling Marxism, a respectable political and philosophical tradition, “murderous” conflates it with the perversion of those ideas in Stalinist Russia and elsewhere where they were. That is like calling Christianity a murderous ideology because of the blood that was shed in its name during the Inquisition, the Crusades and the great wars of Europe. That is ridiculous.

.. Jordan, our “free speech warrior,” decided to launch a website that listed “postmodern neo-Marxist” professors and “corrupt” academic disciplines, warning students and their parents to avoid them. Those disciplines, postmodern or not, included women’s, ethnic and racial studies. Those “left-wing” professors were trying to “indoctrinate their students into a cult” and, worse, create “anarchical social revolutionaries.”

.. I do think Jordan believes what he says, but it’s not clear from the language he uses whether he is being manipulative and trying to induce fear, or whether he is walking a fine line between concern and paranoia.

.. Jordan has a complex relationship to freedom of speech. He wants to effectively silence those left-wing professors by keeping students away from their courses because the students may one day become “anarchical social revolutionaries” who may bring upon us disruption and violence.

At the same time he was advocating cutting funds to universities that did not protect free speech on their campuses.

He defended the rights of “alt right” voices to speak at universities even though their presence has given rise to disruption and violence. For Jordan, it appears, not all speech is equal, and not all disruption and violence are equal, either.

If Jordan is not a true free speech warrior, then what is he?

.. What same-sex families and transgender people have in common is their upset of the social order. In Maps of Meaning, Jordan’s first book, he is exercised by the breakdown of the social order and the chaos that he believes would result. Jordan is fighting to maintain the status quo to keep chaos at bay, or so he believes. He is not a free speech warrior. He is a social order warrior.

.. In the end, Jordan postponed his plan to blacklist courses after many of his colleagues signed a petition objecting to it. He said it was too polarizing. Curiously, that had never stopped him before. He appears to thrive on polarization.

.. He cheapens the intellectual life with self-serving misrepresentations of important ideas and scientific findings. He has also done disservice to the institutions which have supported him. He plays to “victimhood” but also plays the victim.

.. Jordan may have, however, welcomed being fired, which would have made him a martyr in the battle for free speech. He certainly presented himself as prepared to do that. A true warrior, of whatever.

.. Jordan is seen here to be emotionally explosive when faced with legitimate criticism, in contrast to his being so self-possessed at other times. He is erratic.

.. Jordan exhibits a great range of emotional states, from anger and abusive speech to evangelical fierceness, ministerial solemnity and avuncular charm. It is misleading to come to quick conclusions about who he is, and potentially dangerous if you have seen only the good and thoughtful Jordan, and not seen the bad.

.. “Bernie. Tammy had a dream, and sometimes her dreams are prophetic. She dreamed that it was five minutes to midnight.”

.. He was playing out the ideas that appeared in his first book. The social order is coming apart. We are on the edge of chaos. He is the prophet, and he would be the martyr. Jordan would be our saviour. I think he believes that.

.. He may be driven by a great and genuine fear of our impending doom, and a passionate conviction that he can save us from it. He may believe that his ends justify his questionable means, and he may not be aware that he mimics those figures from whom he wants to protect us.

.. “What they do have in common is … that they have the answers and that their instincts are good, that they are smarter than everybody else and can do things by themselves.” This was Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state in an recent interview with the New York Times referring to the authoritarian leaders discussed in her new book, Fascism: A Warning.

.. Jordan is not part of the alt-right. He fits no mould. But he should be concerned about what the “dark desires” of the alt-right might be. He could be, perhaps unwittingly, activating “the dark desires” of that mob.

.. I discovered while writing this essay a shocking climate of fear among women writers and academics who would not attach their names to opinions or data which were critical of Jordan. All of Jordan’s critics receive nasty feedback from some of his followers, but women writers have felt personally threatened.

.. Given Jordan’s tendency toward grandiosity, it should not be surprising to learn that he is politically ambitious. He would have run for the leadership of the federal Conservative party but was dissuaded by influential friends. He has not, however, lost interest in the political life.

.. cut University funding by 25 per cent until politically correct cult at schools reined in.

.. On March 19, Jordan was in the Toronto Sun saying that Premier Kathleen Wynne “is the most dangerous woman in Canada.”

.. There was nothing new in the article, but those words are signature Jordan, the language of fear.

.. Jordan is a powerful orator. He is smart, compelling and convincing. His messages can be strong and clear, oversimplified as they often are, to be very accessible.

.. He has studied demagogues and authoritarians and understands the power of their methods. Fear and danger were their fertile soil. He frightens by invoking murderous bogeymen on the left and warning they are out to destroy the social order, which will bring chaos and destruction.

Jordan’s view of the social order is now well known.

He is a biological and Darwinian determinist. Gender, gender roles, dominance hierarchies, parenthood, all firmly entrenched in our biological heritage and not to be toyed with. Years ago when he was living in my house, he said children are little monkeys trying to clamber up the dominance hierarchy and need to be kept in their place. I thought he was being ironic. Apparently, not.

He is also very much like the classic Social Darwinists who believe that “attempts to reform society through state intervention or other means would … interfere with natural processes; unrestricted competition and defence of the status quo were in accord with biological selection.”

.. Social Darwinism declined during the 20th century as an expanded knowledge of biological, social and cultural phenomena undermined, rather than supported, its basic tenets.” Jordan remains stuck in and enthralled by The Call of the Wild.

.. What I am seeing now is a darker, angrier Jordan than the man I knew.

.. In Karen Heller’s recent profile in the Washington Post he is candid about his long history of depression.

.. It is a cognitive disorder that casts a dark shadow over everything. His view of life, as nasty and brutish, may very well not be an idea, but a description of his experience, which became for him the truth.

.. “You have an evil heart — like the person next to you,” she quotes him as telling a sold-out crowd. “Kids are not innately good — and neither are you.” This from the loving and attentive father I knew? That makes no sense at all.

.. It could be his dark view of life, wherever it comes from, that the aggressive group of young men among his followers identify with. They may feel recognized, affirmed, justified and enabled. By validating them he does indeed save them, and little wonder they then fall into line enthusiastically, marching lockstep behind him.

.. These devoted followers are notorious for attacking Jordan’s critics, but this was different. It was more persistent and more intense. That was not outrage in defence of their leader who needed none; she was the fallen victim and it was as if they had come in for the final kill

.. “When someone claims to be acting from the highest principles for the good of others, there is no reason to assume that the person’s motives are genuine. People motivated to make things better usually aren’t concerned with changing other people — or if they are they take responsibility for making the same changes to themselves (and first).

.. I believe that Jordan has not lived up to at least four of his rules.

Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Rule 8: Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie

Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

Rule 10: Be precise in your speech

 

‘The Russians Have Succeeded Beyond Their Wildest Expectations’

Former intelligence chief James Clapper says President Trump is dead wrong about Russian interference in America’s elections. And they’re going to get away with it again, he warns.

.. “I mean, the Russians succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations. Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded to a fare-thee-well. They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded to a fare-thee-well.”

“They’ve been emboldened,” he added, “and they will continue to do this.”

.. Trump’s rhetoric is “downright scary and disturbing,” Clapper agonized in an extraordinary monologue on live TV in August, amid Trump’s “fire and fury” threats toward North Korea. He questioned Trump’s “fitness for office” and openly worried about his control over the nuclear launch codes. In our conversation, Clapper didn’t back off one word of it, slamming Trump’s lies, “distortions and untruths.”

.. And he is certainly no liberal partisan: just ask Democrats like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who excoriated Clapper for what appeared to be misleading a Senate committee about the intelligence community’s surveillance of private U.S. citizens, information later revealed by Edward Snowden’s disclosures. (His testimony was “a big mistake,” Clapper now says, but not “a lie.”

..  a tough-minded former Air Force lieutenant general who once said, “I never met a collection capability I didn’t like.”

.. “It’s a very painful thing for me to be seen as a critic of this president,” he told me, “but I have those concerns.”

.. what he did when then-President-elect Trump first started attacking the intelligence community’s Russia findings. He didn’t publicly blast Trump—he called him on the phone.

.. more significant Russian arms-control violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. “If you look at what Russia is trying to do to undermine us, and the modernization of their strategic nuclear forces—and they only have one adversary in mind when they do that

.. appearing to lecture Americans on why only that small percentage of citizens who have served in the military could understand the nature of their sacrifice.

.. He took particular issue with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comment that Kelly’s word about the congresswoman should not be second-guessed because he had been a four-star general, a remark Clapper called “absurd.”

.. worried about the Trump era as the new age of militarized government, not only with Kelly as chief of staff but also a sitting lieutenant general, H.R. McMaster, as national security adviser, and a former general, James Mattis, as defense secretary. Clapper said that while he has “a visceral aversion” to generals “filling these political, civilian positions,” he’s nonetheless “glad they’re there.”

.. he fears that “some of this intemperate, bellicose rhetoric” between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could lead to a “cataclysmic” war.

The risk, he said, came primarily from Kim miscalculating as a result of Trump’s heated words.

.. “Kim Jong Un doesn’t have any advisers that are going to give him objective counsel. He’s surrounded by medal-bedecked sycophants, who dutifully follow him around like puppy dogs with their notebooks open, ascribing his every utterance, and pushing back against the great leader is not a way to get ahead,” Clapper said. “And so I do wonder what Kim Jong Un’s ignition point is, when some insult that’s been hurled at him by the president will just ignite him.”

.. The 25th Amendment that people bring up is a very, very high bar for removal, and appropriately so. And if that were to happen—and let’s just say for the sake of discussion there were an impeachment, even less likely a conviction—all that would serve to do is heighten the polarization and the divisiveness, because the base will never accept that, and that would just feed the conspiracy theories.”