In Trump’s America, widening divisions give vent to people’s anger

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/19 21:03:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

New York is known for its diversity. But after spending so many years in this so-called melting pot, I now know that the idea that everyone here can get along - and give those who look very different from themselves the occasional hug - is, at best, only one side of the story. In reality, people belong to different interest groups that fight with each other all the time. They fight over the city budget, coveted seats in quality public schools, the share of elected officials that come from their communities, and the number of parks in their neighborhoods. Indeed, they fight more often than they hug.

The most valuable lesson New York has taught me is to keep calm in an environment filled with arguments, protests and charged people squaring off against one another, and to be positive and believe all problems have a solution.

Still, there is a type of altercation that has been increasing in this city and elsewhere in the US in the past couple of years that really disturbs me. I see the dangerous road it is leading America to, but I cannot see a solution.    

In May, a lawyer in New York ranted at and threatened to call immigration law enforcement when two employees at a deli he visited talked to each other in Spanish.

In June, a woman was harassed in a park in Illinois only because she wore a T-shirt with the words "Puerto Rico" written on it. She was told that she shouldn't wear the shirt and pressed on whether she was a US citizen by an aggressive man. And when she turned to a police officer nearby for help, the officer simply walked away.  

In July, an employee of a restaurant in San Antonio was arrested after he tore off a "Make America Great Again" hat from the head of a teenage customer and threw a soda in his face. 

Over the summer, several Trump administration employees including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, were told to leave a restaurant because they are part of Trump's team.

Unlike the fights over vested interests that are well choreographed and can often be solved via negotiation, these new bust-ups are alarming because of their visceral nature. Logic may not prevail. Strictly speaking, it is not new. They are similar to past wars over religion and ideology. They became less popular after the end of the Cold War. They are much harder to mediate because too often, people on both sides tend to believe that the only way out is to physically convert or destroy the other side. Stalemate is often the result.

It certainly doesn't help that people involved in the fights don't seem to be listening to each other at all. They get their "facts" exclusively from either CNN or Fox News, two channels whose coverage is as distant as Mars and Venus. Or they don't care about facts any more at all - I hope that isn't the case. 

Some of the conflicts are the result of discrimination and can be solved in court as the last resort. But even the established anti-discrimination law is not enough to cool down the heated atmosphere. Last January, a man was thrown out of a bar in New York because of the "Make America Great Again" cap he wore. A lawsuit ensued. And this April, a judge decided that the bar had done nothing wrong because the law doesn't protect against "political discrimination."

All psychologists agree that a household where the parents constantly fight takes a toll on the mental health of the children. No one seems to have studied how a country in the same situation affects its residents. But I don't need a psychologist to tell me that.

Frustrated by the ever-growing possibility that such dead-end fights will reach a new pitch and go on indefinitely, a friend offered a solution at a recent dinner gathering. "The only way out is to have New York and California leave the US and join Canada," he said about the two most liberal states in the country, only half in jest.

I don't think I'll see that happen in my lifetime. But I know that if the US cannot come up with a way to fix the hopeless divisions among its people, more of them will move north to the neighboring country for certain.

The author is a New York-based journalist.


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