Donald Trump was elected on the back of vast divisions in the American psyche; unironically, it looks like his presidency will keep things that way.
When the acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, was fired by Donald Trump on 31 January in response to her not telling departmental lawyers to defend Trump’s executive order on the Muslim travel ban, she was dismissed for doing her job. However, the Trump administration’s attitude to dissenters appears to be one of steadily removing them without necessary cause, until none remain – a plan that will doubtless fulfil itself when the next Supreme Court Justice takes office. The question remains, however, what Yates will do now. She will likely be vilified and pilloried by half the voting population for trying to stifle the first, and so far most controversial, executive order of the new Presiden’ts tenure. In fact, Fox News have already tried to debase her legal qualms by claiming they were made on moral grounds. This is clearly only the beginning of a new level of polarisation.
This ongoing polarisation is brewing in the context of an incredibly embedded level of confirmation bias. During the most recent presidential election, a sizeable minority of Facebook news sources reported so-called “fake news”. This exists on both the left and the right, but on both sides, voters are increasingly searching for information that supports their theses and decries every defence the opposing side has – often because the potentially radicalised stories they read offer them a more exaggerated viewpoint, making the average Republican far less likely to be prepared to debate the average Democrat, and vice versa.
This is the precedent that the Trump presidency will inevitably set: policies and, perhaps for the most part, executive orders, that half of voters embrace with open arms, while the other half is frothing at the mouth, protesting every which way, and further encouraging Republicans to call them out for whining. Of course, the country isn’t quite so partisan to encourage the entire voting population to pick a side, but it seems reasonable to assume that in a country where the two sides are becoming ever more visible, where your average voter is far less like the British allegory of “shy Tory” and far more akin to the bombastic bloc supporting Trump, that those yet to make up their mind on the President’s problematic declarations will be forced, without even noticing, into doing so.
Before the age of Trumpism, politics in the United States was for the most part concerned with economic measures, foreign affairs, and internal social policy. However, when it descends to a point where the President is pushing through multiple executive orders and firing those simply tasked with consulting the constitution, it’s far easier to adopt one position on either side. There is far less nuance to deciding what you think of a blanket ban on immigrants from seven muslim-majority countries than there is to rating the President’s tax plan. As a result, more and more people are likely to gain political positions, and indeed biases, they never knew they had.
To return to the over-arching principle, American presidential politics is now clearly wrapped in a thick veil of post-truth. The President’s Press Secretary has taken to his job with the full intention of telling porkies to a crowd of honest journalists. When the head of state is offering his country false information, the polis becomes even more disparate. One side, goodness knows which, will be able to parse true from false. The other side, those that consistently take Trump’s words to heart, will eat up anything that fits the President’s – and consequently, their own – worldview.
Even if the increasingly politicised public cared about the tangible, real world effects of Donald Trump’s presidency, they will be too concerned with wars of words to see their country change around them. Political economy will be pushed aside in the face of bombastic rhetoric; real, economic disparities will be substituted for ideological diffidence, and inequality will become a byword for intolerance of the opposing side.