Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for January 27th, 2021

While the world breathes a collective sigh of relief at the departure of Donald Trump and his acolytes, celebrations may well be premature.

The USA remains a deeply polarized society, and the influence of the internet has exacerbated similar polarizations- moral, economic, political- all over the world.

Of the wide variety of people who voted for Trump, despite all his incompetence, blatant lies and  narcissistic rants, the only ones with whom I can sympathise to some degree are those rural and urban working-class Americans who looked to him, both in 2016 and now, as one standing outside the conventional political system, whether Democrat or Republican, that had largely ignored their fears and concerns in recent decades. These are people who feel impotent, irrelevant, obsolete.

Of course Trump shamelessly stoked racist, misogynist, and xenophobic sentiments at every opportunity. But in 2016, and again last year, Trump offered hope to those who had been left jobless by the global flow of capital and also wanted him to bring back their children from fruitless wars overseas. He promised to rebuild American industry and continue his hard line on China. The latter policy is the only promise Trump honoured and it won support from many Asian countries, as well as Asian-Americans living in the US who are rightly angered by China’s repressive political regime.

But, at the same time, his choice for Labour Secretary, Andrew Puzder, is the boss of several big fast food companies and a fan of automated customer services: “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age-, sex-, or race-discrimination case,” he is reported to have said soon after his appointment. Further, nearly half of current jobs in the U.S. will be automated by 2033. Not only will 3D printers eliminate jobs in manufacturing, but “truck drivers” (the most common job in some American states) will also become obsolete in the age of driverless cars and trucks.  

Those who drive this relentless surge to automate everything are the Hi-tech giants and owners of Big Business. They are found among Democrats as well as Republicans; and Joe Biden’s almost single-minded focus on Covid in his election campaign did little to reassure voters that he understood their desperate economic future. Apart from Bernie Sanders, no one seemed able to acknowledge how so-called “neoliberal” economic ideology had subverted liberal democracy and played into the hands of “far-right nationalists”- something also seen in Europe and parts of Asia.

Many political liberals are, along with rich conservatives, part of the ruling elite that treat poorer and less-educated folk with supercilious disdain. As for the latter’s moral and religious concerns, these too are summarily dismissed as antiquated and regressive, without public debate. They are jeered at by East Coast comedians and are often the butt of ridicule in Hollywood movies.

It is impossible, of course, to argue with conspiracy theorists and those who move only within their limited circles and see every issue in black-or-white terms. The latter include militant atheists as well as the militantly religious, the highly educated as well as the non-literate. One can only argue with those who believe in argument, reason with those who respect reason. But there are plenty of such men and women across the political and moral/religious divides in all nations. They may well be the “silent majority”; but, if so, their silence and neglect of genuine dialogue among themselves have ushered extremists on to the centre of the political stage.

About ten years ago, I spoke at an American university on the theme of Justice. I told my audience that the three most important contemporary justice challenges that American society faced were (a) the massive wealth inequalities (which translate into power inequalities); (b) global warming and climate change (which affect millions of people who are not responsible for greenhouse emissions); and (c) protecting the lives of foetal human children who are the most voiceless and vulnerable persons in our human community.

Many students told me afterwards that they had heard “conservative” speakers address the third topic, and “progressive” speakers address the first two, but that they had never heard anybody bring all three issues together in a single talk on justice. I found this both revealing and disheartening. It expresses the utterly unintelligible polarizations in American society.

And, far more tragically for me, it mirrors the same polarizations in the American church today, a church that while failing to live as a prophetic counter-culture within its own context, exports its divisions and prejudices to the rest of the world. Can the American church be an agent of reconciliation? Only if it practices humble repentance and the willingness to listen to, and learn from, others.


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