Last year on our nation’s birthday, I wrote about how media fragmentation has divided our increasingly dysfunctional United States of America in dangerous ways. This phenomenon is, in my view, extremely underrated and has impacted us in many aspects of life which we as a country haven’t even perceived.
Among these was the rise of Donald Trump as the GOP nominee and, eventually, as the President of the United States. It has also dictated almost every facet of the extremely unorthodox way he has chosen to run his presidency and allowed him to survive, and even prosper from, events and actions which would have destroyed any other modern-day politician.
In short, Trump took advantage of our divisions to come to power, and has now exacerbated those fractures for his own benefit. Forget about a strong majority of Americans agreeing on any controversial topic or policy, we can no longer even get over 55% percent of the country to accept the same basic realities of the life.
It seems that about 40% of Americans (those who tend to consume the “mainstream” news media) now believe that Trump is by far the worst president we have ever had and is probably, either literally or figuratively, an agent of the Russian government. Meanwhile, about a quarter of our country (those who get their information almost exclusively from Fox News, talk radio, and the Drudge Report) think that Trump is awesome, is the last hope for our great nation, and is currently being attacked by a corrupt news media which is out to destroy us all.
This means that approximately two-thirds of our country not only can’t agree on anything important, we aren’t even able to have a basic conversation with each other. And, in case you were holding out hope for the other 35%, they are made up of a few remaining real conservatives who are confused as hell, and people who are so out of it, and care so little about what is going on, that they think the Electoral College is a school they could never have gotten into, and would never have gone to even if they had.
Sadly, this is exactly the way Trump likes it.
As I have been saying from the moment of his bizarre inaugural address, Trump, either as part of a larger strategy or simply because it is more fun for him to go this route, is focusing what he does and says (especially on Twitter) on only the 25% who make up his very strong fan base. I have been referring to them as his “Cult 45.”
This is a lousy way to govern a Democratic Republic, but Trump doesn’t really seem all that interested in actually getting things done (anyone remember whatever happened to that great wall he was going build?). Instead, it seems his fragile ego is motivated far more by hearing the roar of an adoring crowd, seeing his tweet get retweeted over 100,000 times, or having the news media obsessively fixate on him in a thirst for ratings.
This tactic is obviously extremely damaging to the health of the country and goes against many of the principles on which were we (sort of) founded on this date 241 years ago. Amazingly, only a couple of major GOP players have even had the courage to mention this problem, with Senator Ben Sasse most recently warning of Trump “weaponizing distrust” of our institutions among the public, specifically the media.
I believe that the “distrust” is so pervasive that in this country where opinions, especially on Trump, are so hardened, and where people hardly ever change their mind about anything (mainly because they are never forced to hear information contrary to what it is that they want to believe) there is almost nothing which can dramatically help or hurt Trump politically. His approval ratings, barring a “black swan” event, will always shift from 37-43% based on what direction the wind is blowing at the moment, and who is taking the poll.
This is a set of circumstances which our Founding Fathers would have thought was utterly untenable. They also would have believed it to be completely inconceivable. After all, they had no cable news channels or the Internet (though I do believe that the New York Times and Washington Post were already pretty much liberal activists at that point.)
As depressing as all of this is, there is actually a bright side to it. Despite all of these deep divisions, a dysfunctional government, and an unqualified conman as our president, we as a nation are somehow still chugging along pretty darn well.
While it may all be temporary, the stock and real estate markets are doing great, there is no massive social unrest, crime (despite what Trump likes to claim) is not historically high, and unemployment, though somewhat deceptively, is very low. It is almost as if most of the country, realizing that Washington is now literally a joke, has decided to simply view what is going as purely entertainment and to ignore the rest of it.
Regardless of what the real reasons for us not collapsing into chaos are, I think we can all take a certain perverse pride in what our nation is currently not only enduring, but through which we are actually somewhat prospering. If the best way to judge the strength of a country by what it can withstand and still persevere, then what we have seen in the first six months of the Trump presidency may, in a perverse way, be our one of our greatest modern achievements.
Trump is failing to Make America Great Again, but, ironically, he is inadvertently doing a pretty good job of proving that maybe we weren’t all that bad off previously.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected].
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.