“Nationalism and its concept of a ‘national mission’ perverted the national concept of mankind as a family of nations into a hierarchical structure where differences of history and organization were misinterpreted as differences between men, residing in natural origin.” (Hannah Arendt)
The American party system is being challenged. We may have discontented masses but are we truly on the edge of revolutionary upheaval? Most likely no. The current political climate is mainly due to the traditional two party system being incapable of representing the interests of the American people as a collective. What we are witnessing is a de facto organization of people based mainly on social class and economic interest. Political ideology has become diffused and is now relegated into a secondary category.
Today, people formulate their political interests based on survival instincts and not on philosophical platforms. The majority of the American populace is disaffected from culture and disparaged by a loss of economic status, leaving a large void in their ability to define themselves in relation to America as a nation. It is mostly a collection of people apolitical by nature and working-class by status, heavily disenfranchised and isolated by global trends that upended their movability within the middle class. This has led people to converge into tribes, clans, and groupings that reflect the disorganized nature of a populace losing its traditional socio-economic status. The masses, when left with a void of identity, are ripe to accede to a strong man’s grip.
Donald Trump has surely given his supporters a place to belong. But is ‘Trumpism’ a movement that is capable of turning into a party above the two party system? Though there exists a social state of warfare between differing demographic tribes (class warfare which parallels the international crises of globalist vs. nativist narratives), American institutions are working to balance the shock Trump’s executive orders have imparted on our system of governance. For now our state and legal institutions may be strong, but America as a nation is fragile.
One element of a nation is to inherit the will of the people as united by common descent and language. What happens to the nation when the ordinance of representation, as through democratic vote, is attacked by our own president as being rigged? Or when each warring political faction (both pro and anti-Trump) feels victimized by the interests of the other? America as a nation, as a collective, is being objectified by those who hold powerful public positions. Day by day, mainstream media outlets regurgitate popular discontent with the Trump presidency while Trump supporters become more emboldened by media attacks that they equivocate as a personal assault on their political virtue.
For Trump supporters, voting for Trump was an invocation of a new American reformation, one claimed to restyle America back to a can-do nation seeped in the convictions of classical Liberalism, that of personal and economic freedom. But six months into the presidency, it is difficult to pinpoint where Trump has succeeded in revitalizing the economic outlook for Middle America. Personal freedoms were never under attack due to people confusing vague notions of freedom with an ongoing culture war fueled by the rigid orthodoxies of the ideologically driven conservative-leaning Right and liberal-leaning Left, each having its own interpretation of freedom that is marked with a distinctly different set of values.
Currently, America is not being governed; it is being rallied by a president that speaks only for his tribe. With this in mind, are enlightenment ideals and democratic rights enough to hold a nation together? The American nation was built on the ideals of democratic governance, where the interests of the people are represented and protected by a constitutional government. If democracy is used as a tool for political divide, then, in ironic fashion, democracy as a function of the American governance model will begin to hallow out what it means to be a nation.
The patriotic zeal that encompasses Trump’s ‘America First’ sloganeering is an outward manifestation of national insecurity and the arbitrariness of society. The surge in nationalism as purveyor of one’s tribal identity is a symptom of the weakening nexus between nation and state. Not only is the Trump Administration attempting to dismantle disloyal elements of the bureaucratic state, but is (unwittingly?) redefining the underpinnings of American cultural norms, social mores, and democratic ethos. Having a national figurehead, a president, that speaks only the language of his supporters while alienating any sect or faction that opposes him will allow for unrelenting resentment to begin to breed, thus beginning a process that weakens the seat of the American presidency. If the American president cannot (or will not) represent We The People, as a political community unified under civic nationalism as enshrined in the Constitution, then he assumes a breakage of the social contract with the people and in turn relegates the power of the state over the individual as more authoritative than representative.
Adding to the detriment of our current political era, our two party system of governance is on unstable ground. Trump’s claim to the presidency is not due to his adherence to Republican orthodoxies, but in spite of them. His ‘party’ is one based on a crude form of ethnic nationalism craved out of political grievance and cultural opposition toward the character of the Obama presidency. Democrats are currently leaderless and seemingly incapable of building a renewed party platform that can bring together coalitions of independents and progressives. Both Republicans and Democrats lack party cohesion and are driven by the ad hoc ideology of opposition politics. For now they are operating by the institutional functionaries of Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi. Both parties must begin to rebuild their party platform, if not, they each run the risk of isolating the American public at large.
The masses, isolated and indifferent, guarantee only one thing. That being that the center will not hold. If this continues, it might give Trump freer reign to create a party above parties, thus beginning a process that can allow Trump to institutionalize his brand of politics. For now, his ability to assume that type of power is arguably limited, but America being a country that is defined by the scope of a written set of laws, a Constitution instead of historical customs, unfortunately allows for political ineptitude to foster crass identity crises in the body politic of the American public. As a geographically expansive and democratically complex country, it will force us from time to time to truly question the confines of our nationhood. Let’s begin by asking the right questions.
“The more peoples know about one another, the less they want to recognize other peoples as their equals, the more they recoil from the ideal of humanity.” (Hannah Arendt)