The American left and right both have appeals that resonate deeply with a populist base. You can break up the big banks and tax the rich for free university education; you can build a big wall on the Mexican border, end the IRS. Both of our parties have extremist candidates, and more moderate standard bearers who can consolidate support (although Republicans are quickly morphing into two core and oppositional groups of voters).
The simple truth of politics is in America is it’s a rich man’s game. And it’s fueled by the comfortable feeling of in-groups vs. outgroups. We hate our opponents; there’s something wrong with them. Oh, they don’t understand their best interest, they aren’t educated, there are misspellings and grammatical errors in their social media posts. We call them names.
This other shaming and tribalism isn’t just between parties, Donald Trump’s campaign has exposed it along class lines among conservatives and made it easier for liberals: conservatives ridiculing Trump supporters in Facebook comment threads (not my party); DC media covering his rallies like circuses filled with “cheap seaters.” Polling that shows that Trump supporters have less formal education has helped feed the shaming.
Piling on shame, however, isn’t going to change why a vocal minority of our fellow Americans support Trump. Like the rise of the Front National in France, governmental failures drive contempt for the ruling elite of both parties, and feed power-hungry demagogues.
The solution isn’t government from the middle. There is, however, a solution in a new kind of politics centered in shared humanity, compassion and empathy. When someone’s reason for supporting a Donald Trump is anger, there’s no recourse in shaming them or adding more fear or anger to the debate.
Can we, left and right, say we’re pleased with our government, today? And yet, the tools of democracy aren’t fundamentally broken.
The response to Trump that brings change is a national grassroots project requiring the kind of deep listening that’s only available face to face and in small groups. It’s a massive organizing challenge, a decade-long project that breaks down the hierarchies and separations that threaten our great society.