There are two Americas, and they are at war.
In one, every word uttered by President Donald J. Trump is the golden gospel, swaddled in larger truths if hostile to simple facts. In the other, Trump is a habitual liar — a con man who has run the Oval Office as a criminal enterprise. To one America, Trump is a leader trying to salvage a nation set on a course of moral decay, attempting to turn it back to a time of purer values. To the other America, the president is a flagrant reprobate, a lecherous narcissist with no moral fiber.
To one America, Trump is a strong defender of traditional Western mores, with their emphasis on Euro-centric values, “Father Knows Best” families, and Caucasian cultural standards. To the other America, the president is an unrepentant racist, a bigot who vilifies racial and religious minorities, a demagogue who would turn back the progress of the last 50 years.
How will those diametrically opposed views of the Trump presidency ever be reconciled? Can they be?
There was nothing in the halting and reluctant testimony of Robert Mueller that could repair the breach, and it was foolish for anyone to expect there to be. Evidence of Trump’s perfidy has long been abundant and public. Any partisans willing to reconsider have had ample opportunity to do so.
But faith in Trump isn’t a rational exercise. It’s tantamount to a religion — or a cult. Trumpists have an existential fear of a browning America, a primal sense that their hegemony will be lost, and the president gives profane voice to their basest impulses. He is, he tells them, riding to their rescue. Neither rational arguments nor mounds of evidence can overcome that.
This is the backlash to the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president. For racially resentful white voters, it was a harbinger of things to come, a reminder of inexorable demographic change.
The fear of a browning America has been brewing for decades. In his 2011 screed, Suicide of a Superpower, the ultraconservative politician and commentator Pat Buchanan predicted a swift decline for a nation that, in his view, was being overrun by people of color. Writer Peter Brimelow — an immigrant himself, albeit a white one — penned a similar tract, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, back in 1995. A stew of racist fear-mongering, it smears immigrants, especially black and brown ones, with a host of familiar stereotypes: welfare-dependency, lawlessness, ignorance.
Perhaps the reactions of conservative white voters should not have come as a surprise. In 1990, Time magazine published a cover story — “America’s Changing Color: What Will the U.S. Be Like When Whites Are No Longer the Majority?” — on growing racial diversity in the United States.
Even as it forecast a “majority-minority” nation, the article was prescient about the fear that would generate in many white citizens:
“It seems all too predictable that during the next decades many more mainstream white Americans will begin to speak openly about the nation they feel they are losing. There are not, after all, many nonwhite faces depicted in Norman Rockwell’s paintings. White Americans are accustomed to thinking of themselves as the very picture of their nation.”
Even if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acceded to demands in her caucus for impeachment proceedings, Trumpists would continue to vigorously defend the president. Pelosi hesitates largely because of the prospect that such a move might give lukewarm Trump voters reason to ramp up their loyalty. And Trump would remain in office. While a Democrat-controlled House would probably vote to impeach, the GOP-held Senate would surely not.
The best hope for repairing the nation lies at the ballot box. Democrats should focus their energies on making the case to those voters who may still be persuaded of the great harm that Trump is doing to the nation, of the traditions he is trampling, of the threat he represents.
If he is defeated, there will still be a substantial minority of white voters who will not be content with cultural change. But there may be hope for healing the breach between the two Americas.