Is it Trump? Yes. But he’s simply voiced what many Americans have been feeling for decades.
Is it Capitalism? Yes, but just the unregulated part. Without regulation, capitalism is the law of the jungle. And the lions are winning. Hedge funds are buying healthcare practices and squeezing them for cash, threatening the health of people across the country. Companies like Comcast, Google, Facebook, which operate like monopolies, are killing the fundamental of capitalism, competition. Bezos came up with a brilliant answer to malls, which had been a brilliant answer to town centers. Now malls are racing town centers to oblivion. For many, Amazon is now the only place to shop.
Is it Politicians? Yes. But just the corrupt ones… OK, pretty much all of them. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is time-honored and painfully true today. Politicians focus on getting re-elected, not serving voters. The Citizens United ruling gave corporations the political rights of individuals. Their money now swamps our entire political system, wielding more power than their employees, shareholders, or customers combined.
Is it Education? Yes. But primarily in places where there aren’t enough teachers, classrooms, or facilities. Democracy needs an educated public in order to function. Our schools are failing our students and our democracy.
Is it Financial? Yes. Between 1963 and 2013 the lowest 10% of the country actually lost spending power. In 2006 the top 0.01% averaged nearly 1000 times more income than the bottom 90%. Is Bezos really 1000 times better than his warehouse workers? Guess who wants change and who doesn’t.
Is it Racism? Yes, by almost any metric you choose, from poverty to incarceration to healthcare to education to wealth. And what else but racism explains the recent efforts of Republican legislatures to suppress the Black vote?
Is that why we are so divided? Yes, all of the above. But they are just symptoms of the divide. The root cause is more fundamental. And it’s been around since before the country was founded.
It’s our White Christian culture.
The US, as a Southern Evangelical recently opined, was founded by White Christians, people with shared ethnicity and values, who were fleeing European monarchies. They conquered and chased native people off their lands. They imported African slaves. Their progeny over-powered Mexicans and grabbed a huge chunk of Mexico (Texas) in the process, not to mention parts or all of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Kansas.
Since the early founding we have prided ourselves in being the “melting pot” of the world, a place where people of all races and religions could live together. In fact, though, the “melting pot” has primarily consisted of White Christians from Europe.
When the Irish fled the potato famine of the 1800’s and the Italians fled poverty in the early 1900’s, they assimilated reasonably quickly, in no small part because they were White and Christian. When the Jews immigrated after WWII, they faced resistance and still do 75 years later. They may have been white, but they weren’t Christian.
In recent years, more immigrant groups, fleeing other calamities, have arrived. Just as previous immigrant groups have done, many are moving up the ladder of the American Dream and into places of influence and power traditionally held by White Christians. But their skin isn’t white, their eyes aren’t always round, and their religions aren’t always Christian.
And they’ve met increasing resistance from White Christian traditionalists. You see them at Trump rallies, mostly big bellied, big bearded men, shaking their fists and MAGA hats in angry defiance. But you also see them in more sedate settings, less cartoonish than Trump Land.
What links the two groups? Fear. Sure, some is racial. But most is White Christian’s fear of loss of power – over education, capitalism, finance, politics, and more. In other words: fear of cultural change.
As earlier Americans discovered for themselves, each wave of immigrants brings new ideas, new inventions, new energy to the country. A few examples: Sergey Brin (Russia), Eric Yuan (China), Oscar de la Renta (Dominican Republic), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (India). Moreover, the country needs these new Americans at every level, from farm workers to doctors to entrepreneurs.
Most of these people may look and sound different, but they are as good at their jobs, as ethical, family oriented, caring, and patriotic, as any Mayflower descendant. Why? Because they come here, not by accident of birth, but by choice and often at high risk.
The country is actually becoming the melting pot it was supposed to be.