A few days ago a video of a middle-aged white couple brandishing large firearms in front of their villa in a fancy St Louis neighbourhood with Black Live Matters protesters marching nearby went viral in the last few days. The man and the woman have been attacked by some for appearing to point their guns at the protesters, while others have sided with them arguing the couple was defending its property. Regardless of which side one decides to take, these images symbolize a very bitter conflict between different groups of American society.
Without wanting to sound too pessimistic, it is not probably exaggerated to say that in general it is some kind of miracle that America is still a single country. As of today the ideological split between different groups appear to be irreparable. Probably the most furious animosity today is between the “localists”, let’s call them like that, mostly white, established, middle-aged Americans, mostly from the periphery, and the “cosmopolitan souls”, who are not very interested in the life of their neighbourhood but interpret events in a more global (and abstract) context and are (in theory) bitterly adverse to any notion of identity, be it race, class, income or nationality. Some of these cosmopolitans are genuine globalists, some are left-wing, some are anti-racist, some are just anti-Trump. They tend to be younger than localists – and in reality it would be very hard to find a localist under 30. Some call these cosmopolitan souls “liberals”, because these “cosmopolitan souls” appear to stand for freedom above anything else but liberal as a notion is too vague and too obsolete to describe them.
The indisputable thing is that localists and cosmopolitan souls cannot talk to each other and practically never do. It is not just about the abstract business of politics and public administration. The divide between localists and cosmopolitan souls has penetrated almost every aspect of life. 20 years ago when people went to the supermarket or to a bar they would not have expected to find a rainbow flag as a sign of support for sexual minorities, neither would they have expected that the hotel chain they were checking in for their holiday would come out on the side of black rights. Today politics has penetrated most aspects of life and it has become hard to stay above the petty disputes of opposite factions: “White silence is violence”, says a slogan that has increasingly become popular over the last couple of weeks.
Since the fateful election of Donald Trump in 2016 Americans and Europeans have continuously and practically unanimously told by mainstream media that hatred, chaos, mistrust and division in Western public discourse were the work of malign Russian propaganda. Even without Russia though Western “societies” managed to do a pretty good job in sewing division and dehumanizing entire groups. Cosmopolitan souls are animated by a strong desire for a better world – and probably they have a few reasons to do so. However, in their burning strive for change, they often end up dismissing large sectors of the populations as bigots or deplorable. They see themselves as the vanguard of inevitable progress – and angrily despise everyone that appears to question their assumptions. The perfect ideal of triumphant ultramodern values has created a poisonous atmosphere where they are some right people (those who are entirely convinced that ultramodern values are the inevitable path to happiness and justice for the whole of humanity) and not very right people, who are not always so sure the progressive ideal is the way towards utopia, justice and perfect equality and sometimes are just too busy with their own lives to keep up to date with the new trends of the progressive fashion of the day. To blame Russia for these divisions is childish and irresponsible – it means nothing less that to accuse someone else for one’s faults.
If the US still holds together as a country, in spite these deep fault lines, it is probably mostly due to relatively strong governmental institutions. Disagreements between Trump and Congress already brought a couple of times to prolonged government shutdowns. It is not a new thing though and Americans have almost got used to them. But how long can these institutions resist? Mainstream media have accused Trump of being the destroying factor, the madman that instigated a climate of endless dispute and disrespect. Trump has merely been a symptom though. The US is still functioning but US society has been at war with itself for a long while already – and that was long before Trump. Cosmopolitan souls have been persuaded that Trump is the absolute evil and that he must be removed – whatever it takes. They are in for a disappointment though.
Stefano Di Lorenzo @StefanoDiLoren5