Despite all of Donald Trump’s faults, many people supported him in the 2020 election. And even today after some of these faults have been magnified, many of our fellow citizens continue to support him. This phenomenon mirrors a great divide in our country between two very different perspectives. On the one had are those who resent many of the progressive changes of recent decades and are resentful and fearful of further changes. This is especially true regarding the increasing prominence of minorities and women, as well as big-city elites who disdain rural and small-town folks. The resenters also dislike “big government,” “welfare cheats,” lack of “patriotism,” illegal immigrants, and those the resenters feel don’t have a strong enough work ethic.
Opposing the resenters are progressive, liberals, and even some enlightened conservatives. Many of them embrace a vision that Frederick Douglass provided more than a century and a half ago, when he said that “our greatness and grandeur will be found in the faithful application of the principle of perfect civil equality to the people of all races and of all creeds, and to men of no creeds.” Douglas advocated a “composite nation” of many ethnicities and beliefs regarding religion, one made stronger by its diversity.
Most of the resenters voted for Trump in the previous presidential election, and he perceived himself as defending the fortress of white, primarily male and Christian, dominance against the threat of increasing darker-skinned peoples.
Besides differences on whether we should embrace being a composite nation or seek to “Make America Great Again” (by maintaining or restoring white, Christian dominance?), other polarities characterize this great divide in U. S. politics.
In general compared to the progressives and liberals, the resenters are more defensive, more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, more biased, less truth-seeking and science-accepting, and less tolerant of differences and diversity.
This does not mean that the more leftist group, of which I am one, is faultless. Flaws that at least some of our members sometimes demonstrate are being too dogmatic and intolerant, equating Trump followers with Trump himself (few of the followers, for example, are as egotistical as he is), overlooking or playing down leftist failures, and lacking sufficient compassion and empathy for those who see the political world differently than we do.
Yet, at our best, we champion values that have been (at least occasionally) part of the American Dream: tolerance, welcoming immigrants and refugees, a pragmatic non-ideological temperament, compassion and empathy, open-mindedness, respect for scientific findings. Our view of patriotism is also truer to the best of our tradition as compared to one who believes that any criticism of U.S. behavior abroad is unpatriotic.
Finally, we combine recognizing the serious problems we have (for example, in regard to climate change or political polarization) with an optimistic belief that we can solve them--provided we can muster the collective will to do so.