The Divided States of America

This article was originally published in the Ghion Journal, written by Teodrose Fikremariam, on Nov 7th, 2020

Today, at this precise moment, nearly half of Americans who voted are overjoyed while the other half are losing their minds in collective rage. Meanwhile, the majority of Americans who voted neither for Biden nor Trump, or chose not to vote at all due to the lack of viable options that could actually deliver change in America, are yet again left out in the cold.

The people who voted for Biden are convinced that we have arrived at a new day while the folks who supported Trump are convicted in their belief that we are at the doorsteps of tyranny in America. Both are right and both are wrong; the reality is that the optics have changed but when it comes to economic and foreign policies, the bureaucracies in DC and the billionaires in gated mansions who determine both will remain as constant as the rock of Gibraltar. It might be a new day but it’s the same tune when it comes to the continued fleecing of the poor, working and middle-class and the unending wars that enrich the military-financial complex.

As I’m writing this article at a local coffee shop in our nation’s capital, there are an endless procession of cars blaring their horns overjoyed not so much with Biden’s election but the rejection of Trump’s hateful antics. Of course, DC is about as “blue” as blue can get; I’m sure there are folks in “red” states and rural areas who are currently fuming at the idea of Biden being the next president. This is the soap opera of US politics, it derives its power by triggering Americans on a visceral level. It’s easy to make people overlook logic and forget their self-interest when firebrands emotionally manipulate their targets.

The whole foundation of our politics is to divide people into the ghettoes of manufactured identities and then condition them to believe that their enemies are others who struggle just like them. The truth is that people on the “right” and people on the “left”, “white” folks and “black” folks”, and all the various social caste systems in America, have a lot more in common than what they are led to believe. Almost all want to give their children a better life than they led, want to be able to go to sleep at night without worrying about whether or not they will be able to provide shelter and food to their children, simply want opportunities to have a fair shot in this world and want to feel heard.

Sadly, most Americans are getting the very opposite of these basic needs; instead they are being gouged by policies that both parties enact that enrich the few while decimating the rest. While the wealth gap continues to explode irrespective of which party is in power, the lives of the working and middle-class are being wracked by financial and emotional anxieties. But instead of uniting across the political and social spectrum to demand policies that could ameliorate these blights, too many are conditioned through propaganda and identity grievance peddlers to hate others who are in stuck in the same leaky boat.

I know this next sentence is going to trigger a lot of people but the reality is that the vast majority of Trump’s supporters are NOT racists anymore than the vast majority of Biden supporters are Antifa. If you take the political and social blinders off and actually talk to people who look and think differently than you do, you would realize that others who don’t fit in your respective tribes and whom we are conditioned to hate are actually kind and decent folks. The reason they gravitated towards the carnival barker who is about to be evicted from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not because they endorse his hate but because they believed that he gave them a voice. When people feel marginalized or excluded, even if you don’t believe they are, they end up latching on to firebrands who pretends that they care.

Unless you count yourself among the CEO class and truly privileged gentry in America, the simple truth is that the bottom 90% of Americans are being indentured into a life of financial stress and economic uncertainty. No matter the income level, most are living paycheck to paycheck and the average savings of Americans is zero. We are all being ground into dust, some are at the bottom of the grinder while others are waiting their turn to come. Yet, like crabs, too many would rather claw at each other instead of clawing at the barrel that is leading them to their collective boils.

In order to distract from these facts, the establishment gin up resentments and misdirect the justified anger people have towards others who have zero power to affect their lives. Politicians on both sides of their aisles cater to their “base” by creating bogey men on the other side; Reagan did it by slurring “black” women as welfare queens and Hillary did the same by insinuating that people who opposed her were “baskets of deplorables”. Our political system is dependent on fracturing society and pitting people against people based on identities and tribes.

This is the cunning of identity politics and the social labels we have been conditioned to accept as a birthright. When you view yourself as a label, by default you must defend that label and attack others who don’t belong in that category. This is why America is locked in a perpetual state of conflict and why my birthland Ethiopia is currently unraveling under the stress of ethnic segregation, the “us versus them” narrative has been weaponized to foment strife and create conflict among the general public.

All this drama and conflict prevents us from seeing that the only viable path forward is solidarity that transcends race, class, religion, gender and sexual preference. It is easy to dismiss others when we view them through the lens of identity and labels, but when we get beyond these artificial constructs, we quickly realize that our burdens and our redemptions are intricately linked. 

The biggest change we must make is internal, when we stop demonizing each other, we might be able to actually address the structural nature of inequalities that are hobbling most. #DividedUS
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There were profound thinkers and leaders who figured out that a prerequisite for social equality was unity. People like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy eventually came around to the realization that only by disavowing the divides and instead embracing universal justice could America make a dent in the wall of inequity that was threatening to unravel the nation. Of course, they were murdered one by one and the history books were rewritten to make a mockery of their respective messages.

The Black Panthers and Young Patriots hold a press conference in 1969.

Fred Hampton used to attend rallies with folks that adorned the confederate flag, both sides holding hands to advocate for policies that would alleviate the suffering of all. They were trying to form a coalition that transcended race and instead unite the poor and working class, their efforts were met with the malice of covert guns. Can you imagine what they would have called Fred Hampton, one of the pillars of the Black Panther Party, these days because he had the temerity to make allies with the Young Patriots? Look at what they did to Ice Cube for simply reaching out to both sides to advocate for policies that would help African-Americans.

Courageous lions of true equality and justice were silenced and replaced with craven opinion leaders on all sides who are paid by the very system that they pretend to be against. Until we realize that we are all getting bamboozled by the industries of grievance that leverage the pains of people to maintain the status quo while never addressing the root causes of social inequalities, we will keep getting a government that treats us as stepping stones—they call us their “base” for a reason after all.

Trump’s very selection, the Russian interference narrative, the Tea Party, the reason why a billionaire funded Black Lives Matter and mainstream media propagated their message and the reason why the establishment keep pushing narratives of conflict is to obfuscate the true reasons why America has been turned into Aspens for the rich and the Appalachians for the rest. When the rich invest money, it is never to alleviate injustices, it is to reap profits by maintaining the status quo. It is easy to see when others are being duped, it is a lot harder to realize when one is being played for a putz. As long as they keep us fixated on separable grievances instead of forming a collective front, we will keep getting shived in our collective backs.

We are so stuck gazing at the trees that we keep missing the forest while hitting each other with branches. As I scroll through social media, all I keep reading are people on the “left” in full glee at the demise of people who voted for Trump. Not to be outdone, the “right” are giving as good as they get as they lambaste anyone who did not vote for their idol. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why must we debase ourselves and offer our backs to be stepped on by the very same people who are stomping on our throats?

Moreover, though it might feel good to revel at your perceived foes, insults and taunts do not change hearts. To the contrary, the more you shame people, the more they remain stuck in their ways. From personal experience, I was able to get a person who once used to be in the KKK to apologize to me not because I demanded it and got in his face but because I told him my struggles and connected with him on an emotional basis. My initial instinct was to cuss him out, but I chose another path and what I witnessed in return was a man transformed because I humanized what he hated in the abstract. This is how change happens, not through a big bang but by one to one conversations that radiate outward block by city block.

The poem in the tweet below is one that I wrote when I personally witnessed that poverty and homelessness do not discriminate, if you look at the people who either liked the tweet or retweeted it, you will see some are Biden supporters, some are Trump supporters, “black”, “white” and a diversity of ideology and identity alike. It is possible to create a consensus that overcomes our differences, we just need to look in the right places for those voices who speak to our better angels instead of searching out demagogues who stir our passions without having any intentions to offer solutions that could better our lives.

After finishing the draft of this article, as I was driving through DC, I saw a sea of humanity spontaneously walking the streets and celebrating Trump’s loss. I felt like I was transported back to Paris during the city’s liberation from the Nazis, everywhere folks were honking their horns, hugging random strangers and literally popping champagne.

This was the same bliss that intoxicated me and millions of Americans when Obama was elected, a few months after he was sworn in, Barack went on to let Citibank choose his cabinet and enriched the same banking criminals that eviscerate our economy while feeding homeowners to the wolves on Wall Street. Not too long from now, the ecstasy that people are feeling due to Biden’s election will give way to the saddening reality that his voters’ loyalty will be rewarded with duplicity and selling their desires down the Potomac River.

At Lincoln Park, there was a lady literally giving away free glasses of spirits to random strangers. In the same area were homeless camps; the sight was a jarring reminder of where we are as a society. We are so transfixed on politics that we literally overlook the impoverished at our feet in order to fight against a global injustice through our ideological prisms. Gone are the days of convictions and sacrifices in order to effect change, we now simply settle for venting our spleens, taking selfies and then moving on to the next outrage. This perpetual seeking of grievance without attaining cures is not good for our hearts nor will it affect any change.

I don’t write these things to be a Teddy Downer nor is my aim to lecture people and belittle their thoughts. After all, it was not too long ago that I was traveling state to state, working for free for the Obama campaign trying to convince any and all who would listen that he was the change we’ve been waiting for and getting into heated debates with others who did not agree with me. Besides, I understand that identity, whether it is race, religion or ideology, are very sensitive issues and asking people to disavow them is like asking Donald Trump to be gracious in defeat.

Moreover, I myself am a work in progress; no matter how much I know that feeding into the circus of our politics is a distraction or that I should not to respond with snark, I still find myself getting caught up in the inanities of Democrats and Republicans and occasionally enjoy letting loose a condescending remark.

However, ultimately I know that the only path to justice is through forgiveness and love. Doing the opposite and remaining stuck in anger will only lead to bitterness and perpetuating the very excesses and the uneven treatments most of us want to eradicate. I humbly submit that the way to that prize is through inclusiveness that spans the identity divides.

In a couple of months, Joe Biden will be sworn in president and we will get a respite from this election frenzy that we’ve been saddled with for over a year. But as soon as he says “I do”, the same bickering and infighting that are hallmark of our government will settle back in. Republicans and Democrats will go back to pretending that they are in opposition and making it seem that they can’t stand each other; meanwhile behind closed doors both parties will be advancing the agendas of their moneyed patrons.

This is why change never arrives, we are too addicted on politics, too consumed by our differences and too conditioned by tribalism to bend politicians to our will. The rich, when it comes to their interests, do not care an iota about race, ideology or identity, they just care about protecting and enhancing their wealth. The rest of us are too focused on our separable grievances to realized that we are all getting bilked the same. The winners today are politicians, pundits and opinion leaders who peddle the smut of identity politics, the losers as the rest of US.

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