America has always been a land divided. It’s a land in which bristly, conflicting ideologies are constantly at odds with one another – threatening to tear America’s diverse patchwork quilt apart at its very seams. Compromise is often excruciatingly difficult to achieve, and unity has become an increasingly arbitrary concept that few Americans are truly capable of understanding.
Yet against all odds, we press on. Thanks to our set of core, unbending principles and our collective faith in democracy, personal freedoms and the American dream, this country always seems to pull through. After all, there’s a hell of a lot more holding us together than there is trying to tear us apart, right?
It certainly felt that way until about 12 days ago. But after a mere fortnight in power, Donald Trump has knowingly and expertly driven a deep wedge directly through America’s beating heart. Without the slightest hint of subtlety or regret, that cherished sense of unity we all recognise has rapidly begun to dissipate – and as a gaggle of increasingly fanatical voices emerge to fill previously non-existent voids, it feels like this country may have finally reached its tipping point.
All across America, hastily planted seeds of discord have already started to bloom.
We’ve seen plenty of muted civil disobedience since Trump was sworn in on inauguration day. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested, police officers have been pelted with rocks and tear gas has been fired with gusto. But last night, all that tension boiled over into staggering violence as demonstrators hurled smoke bombs, raised fires and smashed windows at the University of California, Berkeley.
What began as a peaceful demonstration in response to the scheduled campus appearance of conservative news editor and undeniable bigot Milo Yiannopoulos rapidly devolved into violent pandemonium. For those who don’t know, Yiannopoulos is one of the fastest-rising stars at the fiercely right wing Breitbart News outlet, and was permanently banned from Twitter last year for inciting racism, sexism and unapologetic hate speech.
Around 1,500 protesters took to the streets Wednesday night to speak out against Yiannopoulos – but the frustration and anger lurking subtly in the shadows didn’t take long to rear their ugly heads. Those attempting to block city streets were run over by a speeding car. A young girl was hit in the head by a pole, people were pepper sprayed and videos have since flooded the web of strangers and demonstrators striking one another in earnest. At least six people were hurt, and it was described as “impossible to maintain order given the level of threat, disruption, and violence”.
At face value, this might seem like just your typical, run-of-the-mill demonstration that slipped into a brief, but inconsequential, spell of riotous anarchy. The chaos ultimately pushed Berkeley into cancelling Yiannopoulos, and Donald Trump’s predictably catty response was to threaten to withdraw federal funds from the university. But the truth is, last night’s unsettling back-and-forth is only the latest in an ever-increasing wave of serious unrest.
Those liberal, tree-hugging hippies, conservative diehards and right-wing talk show hosts we love to joke about don’t seem quite as funny now. The threat of impending violence from what we all like to pretend is a peaceful and sensible progressive left has become all too real – and can you honestly feign surprise?
Donald Trump has only been in power a few days, and already he’s done his best to separate friends and family with a hateful policy agenda. He’s spat on half America’s allies, and attempted to deny American citizens some of their most basic rights.
And for their part, a previously silent and chillingly right wing collective of Trump supporters have poured from the woodwork to express their unabashed love for the sour smell of intolerance now emerging from Washington. That basket of deplorables Hillary Clinton warned us about has pounced upon Donald Trump’s shock election victory as some sort of twisted validation of their gruesome views, and are now celebrating accordingly.
Over here on the ground, it feels like things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before they get any better. There’s a tension in the air you could cut with a knife, and it’s creating a sense of quiet confusion and mass anxiety that one could only imagine ordinary Germans might have felt as they watched their communities slowly fall under the iron fist of fascism in the 1930s.
No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, this mood is bad for everybody. Those stark divisions of gender, race, religion and creed that make America so unique are finally tumbling into open acts of political violence. This is Donald Trump’s America – and unless our feckless new leader offers up some faint glimmer of hope soon, it's going to be a very dark place indeed.
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