Deep Division in the US Precedes Trump

With the chaos that is currently pervading the streets of America, the narrative that President Trump is the main reason is often reiterated.

The Not-So-United States

However, this narrative is only half the truth. Although Trump never had the intention of uniting the country and from the beginning viewed himself only as the president of his electorate, Barack Obama’s presidency had already been one of division. The United States had changed significantly during Obama’s tenure at a demographic, social, and technological level. Trump’s election was the first symptom of the division. The chaos now is the catharsis of patient America’s malady.

Under Obama, a demographic change had occurred that altered the face of America significantly. For one thing, millennials have now surpassed Boomers and account for the majority of the population. The effect is a trend towards more liberal and left-wing values among many of America’s young public, particularly in metropolitan areas.

Moreover, with the increase in younger people, the US has also witnessed a reversal of the country’s religious values. Under Obama, the proportion of Americans who do not belong to any religion has increased from 16 to 23 per cent. Unsurprisingly, this figure is the highest at 35 per cent among millennials too. Perhaps even more meaningful is a decrease in individuals identifying as Christians (78 to 71 percent).

The Changing Electorate

Moreover, the demographics of voters have also changed in recent years. In 2013, the majority of newborn babies belonged to an ethnic group for the first time while the electorate in Trump’s 2016 election was the most diverse ever. Minorities cast a third of all votes.

The strong growth in Latinos, in particular, has contributed to the change in the electorate. For the first time, the share of votes from Hispanics was as large as the share of African Americans.

The demographic change in the United States has affected both Democrats and Republicans, albeit in varying forms. While the Democratic has rapidly become more diverse, less religious and better educated, the GOP electorate has continued to age faster than the rest of the country, thus further widening the gap between Conservative and liberal agendas.

Republican vs. Democrat

The contrast between Democrats and Republicans becomes apparent, particularly in terms of sociopolitical issues such as migration. Between 1994 and 2005, the positions of both parties on this topic had still been relatively uniform. At present, however, Democrats are advocating an open border policy, while the GOP has turned to the other extreme and the enforcement of protectionism. Additional gaps that cannot be bridged remain issues relating to the Second Amendment, climate change and abortions. Both parties are de facto diametrically opposed on almost every policy matter and so are their respective constituencies.

The latter has been further exacerbated by the growth of digital technologies and social media channels, that played a significant role in Obama’s 2008 campaign. Now, however, the influence of social media has grown to an almost unhealthy extent.

Comments and opinions on politics had always been available for people who sought it. However, where people used to have to listen in to Rush Limbaugh or be at home to watch Sean Hannity or Wolf Blitzer, has transformed into a plethora of available news and opinion whenever and wherever desired — and often with questionable consequences.

Social Media Revolution

During Obama’s election campaign in 2008, just under 30 percent of American adults had used social media platforms. To date, the use of social media has soared to 72 percent. Among 18-29-year-olds the number is at a staggering 90 percent.

In this highly-unfiltered environment, partisan hackery has found fertile ground. From fake news, to hate speech and the occasional unbiased news, the social networks cater to everyone and open possibilities for pundits or politicians to mobilize their often gullible supporters. Trump himself has made a living out of the latter. He utilizes Twitter to interact with supporters, attack opponents and take positions in real-time.

Both Obama and Trump have had limited agency over the demographic change as well as the digital revolution. And yet one president attempted to mitigate the situation while the other has done everything to exacerbate it for personal gain and to the nation’s detriment.