Recently, upon arriving in Eugene, Oregon a taxi driver told me a story which sums up America`s incivility today. A prospective customer, with avowed pro-Trump sentiments was about to enter the vehicle. When the driver, part Hispanic but Caucasian looking, gave an opposite view the customer walked away. Avoiding the company of an anti-Trump liberal was well worth the inconvenience of a delayed journey.
My conversation with the driver coincided with a similar yet converse news story. Across television, radio, the press and social media we heard from Lexington Virginia that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had been refused service at the Red Hen restaurant. Without apology the manager declared her stand against a figure who represented an `inhumane and unethical` administration.
Inevitably, the President tweeted against the restaurant and pro-Trump trolls continued the attack on social media. Protesters outside the premises carried signs against LGBT rights and for the President. Other signs expressed support for Corey Stewart, a Virginia Republican nominee for the Senate with strong confederate sympathies.
Clearly, core Republicans and core democrats inhabit separate worlds of mutual antipathy. Yet, such vivid impressions are misleading; the fissures of American society run much deeper.
On my US visit I read a Harpers Magazine article entitled `The Death of a Once Great City ` in which writer and New York resident Kevin Baker detailed the rapid polarisation between the obscenely wealthy and the desperately poor.( Harpers July 2018). `For most of a decade now` he remarks `like lava flowing inexorably from some deadly volcano, the residences of the super-rich have moved east from the Time-Warner Centre to create Billionaires Row, the array of buildings on 57th Street and several adjoining streets and avenues that is already dominating much of the Manhattan skyline`.
Within this precinct multilevel apartments sell for between $20 and $250 million. Meanwhile,in the South Bronx more than 250,000 people live below the poverty line and homelessness is at record levels. For those in between the extremities of wealth and poverty living costs are rising as landlords raise rents. The general result, Baker says, is ` a place increasingly devoid of the idiosyncracy ,the complexity , the opportunity and the roiling excitement which made a great city great`. Live music venues, corner bakeries, kosher butchers,shoe and cobbler shops ,hardware and grocery stores, neighbourhood eateries,bookshops along with indoor/outdoor markets are no longer commercially viable. Immigrant ,multicultural communities are being economically decimated as Trump amplifies the prejudices that they face.
These circumstances help explain Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez`s recent nomination victory over Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley, a ten-term New York congressman. On cable network MSNBC the part Puerto Rican nominee declared that `our campaign was focused on just a laser-focused message of economic, social and racial dignity for working class Americans, especially those in the Bronx`. She argued that Crowley was unconnected to working class people in his district and beholden to Wall St and corporate interests. One of her campaign advertisements pointedly stated `It’s time that we acknowledge that not all Democrats are the same`.
For the Guardian`s New York correspondent Lauren Gambino Ocasio-Casio`s victory exemplifies a Party in revolt as first-time women and progressive candidates stand against Donald Trump (`Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez :who is the new progressive star of the Democrats` Guardian 27 June). Behind such candidates Black Lives Matter, Me Too and a resurgent Latino rights movement head a nationwide mosaic of community activist networks.
However, such developments reveal an entrenched political fissure between progressive activist candidates and the Democratic Party establishment. Across all campaigns for public office Democrat candidates to the right of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are not going to advocate the abolition of the Immigration Customs Enforcement Agency, the establishment of a single-payer healthcare plan or the introduction of tuition-free college degrees.
At every level of political representation vehement Democratic opposition to Trump obscures the diversity of politicians on offer . These include candidates handpicked by Party central, former Republicans appalled by Trump`s bellicosity and social liberals with no critique of corporate America.
The Party is all over the place tactically because it has no clear policy alternative to Trumpism; a yawning absence which undermines the prospect of success in the upcoming Congressional elections. The reason for this dates back to Barack Obama`s first Presidential term. The opportunity to investigate and radically reform Wall Street in the name of a socially inclusive public investment programme was lost. As Kevin Baker notes in another article `President Obama missed the vital moment to establish an overarching narrative of reform and expand it to a badly needed wholesale revision of the national covenant` (`Nothing in All Creation` New Republic June 2018).
After 18 months of the scandal riven, semi-corrupt Trump administration this moment has arrived again. Baker argues that the Democrats should push for a Trump Truth and Reconciliation investigation complemented by a left-progressive policy programme. In my view, if this doesn`t happen the prognosis is bleak. America`s fissures will widen as social incivility degenerates into outbursts of civil unrest.