In the midst of midterm elections, the United States was hit by a wave of bomb packages, sent to prominent Trump critics, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and CNN. While none of the explosives worked, the message was clear. Animosities, which largely arose during the 2016 election, have now reached alarming levels. Loss of common decency, exhibited in toxic behaviours by prominent politicians, causes people to demonize whatever is perceived as ‘otherness’, be it a news outlet or a former president.
When the cult of personality is the defining characteristic of a president, people are going to have polarising opinions about that person. This inevitably causes extreme reactions. While not a great orator, Trump has divided a population with his speeches, and one theme that he seems to have mastered is the ability to create a constant narrative of ‘us vs them’. This rarely arises from a place of disagreement on policies; his attacks are much more personal. Numerous examples come to mind, but a glaring one is the ‘lock her up’ chant, that refers to Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. Now, while many politicians would have exploited this scandal to get ahead in the campaign, there is something particular in Trump’s methods; not only does he attack the people who stand in his way, he dehumanises them. To most Trump supporters, Hillary appeared as a target to be struck down. These toxic behaviours on the campaign trail have served to embolden those who felt forgotten, and have created an unbreakable bond between Trump and his supporters.[pullquote]At the end of the day, Trump is not a politician.[/pullquote]
Many elections in the US have resulted in a divided country, and part of it is simply due to the bipartisan system, which demands that citizens pick a side. However, the rise in hate crimes has shown that this division is being fuelled by the White House. The President’s attitude towards those who disagree with him is causing people to feel emboldened not just to support policies, but also to lash out at those perceived as ‘others’. The loss of respect for fellow humans is not to be attributed entirely to Trump, as the use of social media has largely contributed to this. Behind a keyboard, people feel entitled to strike down their target with whatever means necessary, even if such actions exhibit a complete lack of empathy.
An inevitable victim in this political divide are media outlets, and the political inclination of outlets like CNN and Fox News is now at the forefront of their identity. This is caused by Trump either delegitimising them, with phrases like ‘fake news’, or putting them on a pedestal, through his endorsements on Twitter. At the end of the day, Trump is not a politician. He does not talk, act or reason like one. His actions show a lack of understanding of the responsibilities he took on when he became the President. The lack of nuance in his accusations has served to create an alarming narrative of ‘us vs them’, which has reached the point of being used to legitimise terrorist acts.