Our common enemy, our common ground

Donald Trump became president by uniting a minority of voters with disparate grievances and concerns around a small number of common enemies: illegal and criminal immigrants, Muslim extremists, and the out-of-touch liberal cultural elite. The majority of us now watch in horror as some of our worst fears regarding his presidency are coming true at a dizzying pace: A cabinet takeover of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful, mostly ignorant of policy and politically experienced, many with obvious or suspected financial and ethical conflicts of interest. The impending rollback of decades of hard-fought environmental legislation and corresponding threat of the worst effects of climate change. A retreat from global alliances built up over more than half a century of diplomacy and peaceful negotiation in the wake of the horrors of World War II. The deliberate antagonism of one of our closest economic partners with the prospect of a wall that by all accounts will be ineffective and fiscally irresponsible, a wall likely to serve only as a psychological security blanket for those easily manipulated into the belief that the enemy is without, and not within — much like the wholesale ban on immigration from countries that share only their Muslim heritage in common, and bear no responsibility for any recent act of domestic terrorism. A psychological security blanket, to ease the real pain of our real problems at home: Poverty, underemployment, systemic injustice, and a lack of equal access to high-quality education. A psychological security blanket, wrapped in a deliberate misinformation campaign executed with scientific precision, carefully crafted to sow confusion and doubt as to the real source of these problems. A source represented by the very people we have elected to solve them.

Trump united a small but angry and vocal minority against a common enemy. It’s an old but effective trick. Our personal sense of worth is tied to our social identities — our families, ethnicities, political and religious affiliations, and places of origin. Outside these boundaries lies the other. When our personal sense of worth is threatened, we retreat into our social identities. But when our social identities are threatened, we denigrate the other, restoring the balance and enhancing our self-worth.

Meanwhile, we retreat into increasingly narrow and insular worldviews that reverberate in a digital echo chamber. Our social identities shrink, the other looms larger. While a majority of Americans watch with anxiety as a president most of us didn’t want rolls the dice with our cherished democratic ideals, we splinter and fragment as we scramble to defend those we each hold most dear: Jefferson’s dream of high-quality public education, the cataclysmic threats of climate change, the specter of ever-dwindling support for the arts that enrich our souls, the retreat of America as a beacon of freedom to the world and a place of refuge for the tired and huddled masses.

And herein lies the greatest threat — that we fail to unite against the larger common enemy that threatens us all — supporters and non-supporters alike. Liberal and conservative Christians together can reject the wholesale denial of freedom and refuge to vulnerable populations in the world. Christians and Muslims can march side by side against extremist violence in all of its forms. Pro-life and pro-choice women can stand together to fight misogyny, sexual abuse and workplace inequality. Men must stand with them and fight even harder. Liberal environmentalists and rural conservatives can find common value in protecting our sublime natural landscapes. Free trade proponents and protectionists can work to better align our educational system with our workforce needs and develop policies that empower workers to cope with the real threat to our economic security — automation.

The politics of division got us into this. They will not get us out of this. Trump united a vocal minority against the common enemy of other. We can find our common ground in uniting against him, across our ideological divides. It must be us against him, and not us against “them”. If it’s us against them, they will get everything they want.