The Chinese general and military philosopher, Sun Tzu (6th century BC), in his seminal work titled The Art of War, postulated that “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” When taken beyond the realm of armed conflict, in any adversarial encounter, understanding can often be the key to success. This notion holds special meaning when applied to politics, a forum whose tactics and strategies can be just as difficult to master as those practised on the real-world battlefield. While compromise is often touted, the reality is that both sides, ie, parties, want to achieve their own goals on their own terms. Mutual understanding thus becomes a casualty in the war of agendas, and policy ends up being made by the tyranny of the majority. What further compounds this partisan strife is when the party faithful allow themselves to be overcome with the fervour of loyalty and abandon simple decency towards anyone in the opposing political camp. The end result is a country whose population is deeply divided, a situation that's akin to a bloodless civil war.
Today marks the latest battle in America's democracy as voters cast their ballots in the midterm elections. These are held every four years in November, near the midpoint of a president's term of office. They include all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 34 of the 100 seats in the Senate, and 34 of the 50 state governors. Historically, it tends to have a low voter turnout. But with all the controversy surrounding Donald Trump, this election is being viewed as a referendum of his presidency. Already there has been a record number of voter registrations, as well as early voting and requests for absentee ballots; an indication that the electorate is taking this very seriously. Up for grabs is control of the Congress—the legislative branch of their government. The Democrats need to wrest control of the House from the Republicans if they are to have any chance of arresting what they believe is the wrong direction that the country is heading in. The Republicans, on the other hand, are hard-pressed to maintain control, with their candidates in marginal districts walking a fine line by supporting a polarising president while not alienating large swaths of their constituents. But even as the power of these parties ebb and flow, the effects on the American people cannot easily be undone.
Trump chooses to be 'provoker-in-chief'
I have written several columns on President Trump, unabashedly criticising his personality and policies. I stand by my opinions. My concern has always been that Mr Trump, then as a candidate and now as president, purposely appeals to dark sentiments of the American psyche, stoking feelings of fear and hate to pander to his base. At his rallies, his characteristic fiery rhetoric is laced with insults and accusatory statements that denigrate his opponents and entire groups of people alike. And when the president does it, it not only validates those feelings of bigotry but normalises the open use of such language as well. That being said…I do not subscribe to the notion that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist; after all, some of those people also voted twice for President Obama. As low as my opinion may be of this president, I nonetheless respect the choice of those who voted for him; admittedly, I find that difficult at times. Unfortunately, a divisive narrative is already firmly in place, where Donald Trump is perceived as either the saviour or the destroyer of America. Those who support him believe that he can do no wrong, and those who oppose him fail to recognise when he does get something right. The fallout has sometimes become very personal, with family members being estranged and friendships broken. Ironically, the one thing that both sides agree on is their mutual loathing of each another.
Of course, this is a narrative that T&T is accustomed to. Where the “till ah dead” mentality leads the loyal masses to demonise the politically different-minded. But while we accept that for ourselves, we expect better from the world's leading democracy—that the day after an election they cease being Democrats or Republicans and return to being Americans one and all. However, considering the intense animosity that now permeates its society, from the citizens on main street to the elected officials on the floor of the Congress, the question isn't whether the increase in negative discourse is a result of the current president's temperament, but whether it will continue even after his term in office has ended.
The Prussian general and military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), in his collected works titled On War, observed that “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” But what we are witnessing in the United States is how its politics has turned into a new type of war—a social one…where vitriolic words and opinions are proving to be just as destructive as shot and shell. Notwithstanding Sun Tzu's postulation, true understanding in politics isn't about victory for any one party, but the necessity of their working together for the benefit of all citizens. Questionable language aside, Donald Trump's greatest failing is that he seems to have no desire to be a president for all Americans, but chooses instead to be the “provoker-in-chief” of a starkly divided country. By day's end, the fate of his presidency will be decided, while the war for the future of America's democracy rages on.