Why is America so divided about Trump

Little prospect of reconciliation

"America in the Cold Civil War - How a country loses its center": This is the name of the 224-page work by the social scientist Torben Lütjen, who until the end of March held the substitute professorship for comparative political science at the University of Kiel and previously for three and a half years as a professor for European Studies and Political Science at Vanderbilt University. In this respect, the North German, who was born near Bremerhaven, can be considered a USA expert, especially since his workplace was in the middle of Nashville. Rather liberal, i.e. democratically ticking like all other large cities in the country, at the same time the capital of the traditionally deeply republican state of Tennessee - and as the cradle of country music on top of that, a travel destination for masses of tradition-conscious people: that almost closes the city, in which around a million people live something like America in miniature.

In any case, the university professor was not lacking in encounters with members of the various social classes. Which is all the more true as he liked to go on trips to the rural surroundings of the capital in his free time. "I was an exception within the teaching staff," notes Lütjen. "Most of them were practically always among their own kind."

This observation may be part of the American problem, but not its cause. Why the USA is so extremely divided, why there seems to be only one side or the other and nothing in between, the expert essentially blames three historical lines of conflict. The first goes back to the 1950s, when Martin Luther King and other activists founded a movement that loudly and sometimes with spectacular actions called for an end to discrimination against the non-white population. Since the late 1950s there were federal laws that forbade discrimination on the grounds of "race". Regardless of this, "in fact, racial segregation continued to exist in the American South," explains Lütjen. On the part of the Republican Party, however, almost no one had a problem with it. And the Democratic Party also exercised restraint in view of its conservative base in the south. "Everyone knew, nobody did anything," the political scientist sums up the problem.

"When the protest movement of black people finally broke the silent agreement, it naturally had a polarizing effect," says Professor Lütjen, describing the development, which he nevertheless considers necessary. Just as young students and other groups in Germany pushed for a good 50 years ago to finally face up to the Nazi past, so in the USA racism, but also slavery and many other inglorious chapters of the past were made an issue.

The expert names the religious culture war in the 1970s as the second line of conflict in US society. The secular fought for the right to abortion, the decidedly Christian advocated with holy zeal for the right to life defined in their meaning. The theory of evolution, homosexuality and other issues were equally bitterly debated, so that camps were again formed.

According to Lütjen, the most recent dispute can be described as an urban-rural conflict and has a lot to do with globalization. Those who benefit from it live in the city, those who are left behind live in the country and mourn better times afterwards. According to Lütjen's analysis, the fatal thing about all three processes is the fact that to this day they have not resulted in anything like consensus, but on the contrary underpin the split with increasing tendency. This is also because - regardless of which camp it is - you stay among yourself in real life. And the same in the virtual. The expert speaks of a "paradoxical individualization". People have more opportunities than ever to obtain information, form opinions and make them public. However, this does not lead to tolerance and a commitment to diversity, but to isolation and condemnation of those who think differently.

How strongly the worlds of people in the USA are separated from each other shows itself quite drastically even in very simple areas. According to Lütjen, supporters of the Republicans and Democrats were asked about their favorite TV programs in a social science survey. The result: There was not a single overlap among the top 20 entries.

The expert doubts whether the reconciliation sought by the new President Joe Biden can succeed. "A single person can't do it," he fears. In the longer term, the situation could at best ease somewhat if the fundamental conflicts subsided, for example through targeted programs for the lower and middle classes. If that does not succeed and if a populist person is possibly one day washed up who, like Trump, does not act primarily on gut instinct, but with a cold strategy, the USA could, in Lütjen's opinion, slide much deeper into the crisis.

The political scientist, who has been researching and teaching at the University of Greifswald since April, sees similar tendencies in camp formation for Germany as well. However, he still attaches a fairly strong position to the political and social middle. In order for it to stay that way, from his point of view not only a policy is needed that stands up for those threatened by globalization, but also social attention: “We should make sure that we always have points of contact with people who actually or maybe even supposedly not have that much to do with our milieu and our views. "

Author: Martin Geist