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Division, Distrust and Doubt - Growing Acrimony Threatens America’s Well-Being

By Barrington M. Salmon -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jan 29, 2020 - 10:59:48 AM

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Civilians openly display their firearms Jan. 20, near Virginia’s Capitol building Monday to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation in Richmond, Virginia.

Most days in America it seems as if this vast country is shattering into a million little pieces.

Across this country, brother is fighting against brother and sister is waging war against sister, each fully convinced that they are more victimized, their grievance is greater, the offense more hurtful. The toxic, hyper-partisan environment has divided families, torn apart communities and placed most Americans in warring camps.

The impeachment hearings of President Donald J. Trump taking place in the U.S. Senate which are winding to a close are the most obvious example of the giant tear in America’s social fabric. There are a host of glaring examples of the raw divisions along social, political and economic lines. More often, you’ll hear ordinary Americans lamenting about the death of America as they know it.

It’s clear to native Washingtonian Jacqueline Luqman that Americans are living in consequential and alarming times. “We are on a precipice of a future-defining moment for this country,” she told The Final Call.

“This country has never had a soul. We’re fighting for what’s going to be left. Change is coming. I think there’ll be some pretty drastic change in the social fabric.”

Ms. Luqman, a longtime social and racial justice advocate, said those fighting for truth could easily be overwhelmed by the plethora of issues that Americans, and particularly Black Americans face. It could be racial inequality, affordable and public housing, redlining, the vast and still-growing wage and income gap, President Trump’s steady erosion of environmental protections or climate change.

America, Ms. Luqman said, continues to enrich itself from the proceeds of White supremacy. “Both political parties espoused the status quo. The Republican Party is a racist, White supremacist party and Democrats are collaborators,” she said. “In essence, we have two clearly imperialist, capitalist parties. We’re in a perpetual state of oppression and revolution. Collective wealth is siphoned off and given to the wealthy and super-wealthy.” She points to the shortage of public and affordable housing and the privatization of public education as other problematic areas the country is wrestling with.

“We need to do what I’m seeing politically aware Black people do: building community organizations, working on the sustainability of communities, and increasing grassroots efforts to cultivate state and local access and power at these levels.”

Political bickering and White fears

Michelle Marks-Osbourne, a public speaker, ethicist and self-described philosophical consultant, said President Trump, his party and other White people afraid of becoming a racial minority, have stoked the racial flames to the point that anything could happen.

“This is really insane when you think about it. All this hyper-partisanship is rooted on one side in maintaining power,” she said. “They have decided to defend the indefensible. People are so vested in power because they’re enraged. It’s White fragility and White rage. I was in New York City when the Central Park Five case broke. Trump has always been a racist and made racism acceptable.”

Demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Capitol, during a House vote to measure limiting President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Jan 9

Her fear, Ms. Marks-Osbourne, an ordained minister and owner of the Marks-Osbourne Group, LLC—which among several areas, deals with equity and fairness in the workplace—said, “all this racial unrest and racial animus could trigger hostilities.

“I think it could come to a civil war. Virginia has turned blue and with gun control proposals being considered gun supporters began declaring gun sanctuaries. Gun sanctuaries are illegal. If it was Black people doing this, the National Guard would be out. There would be blood.”

America’s racial divisions are raw and real. Several recent polls, such and some from the Pew Research Center, reflect most Blacks who say President Trump is racist in his rhetoric and his policies. Journalists and authors have documented the hopelessness some Whites feel. In the heartland, their suicide rates increasing, their life expectancy decreasing as White men between the ages of 44 and 55 see no place for them in America in 2020.

Recently, gun supporters flexed their muscle when more than 20,000 heavily armed people—primarily White men—gathered in Richmond on Lobbying Day to express their outrage at the mere thought of the Democratic-dominated legislature preparing to pass what advocates say is sensible gun control measures. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was so concerned that he declared a state of emergency and had law enforcement in an around the capitol and capitol grounds in force. One Black observer told a reporter some of her White friends said they were relieved because the expected violence didn’t materialize. “They can talk about it being peaceful if they want. As far as I’m concerned that was a warning,” she said soberly.

A common topic of conversation around water coolers, at watering holes and around dinner tables is what all this anger, animosity and anxiety all means. Some see all this as the end of empire with America and White Americans, at last, breathing their last gasps of breath as the numbers of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and other non-White people multiply and the numbers of White babies being born continues to tumble. The fear more than a few Black people have is that White Americans would rather destroy this country rather than share in the considerable wealth, assets and benefits this country has to offer.

Economic angst and wealthy ‘fat cats’

America is a tale of two countries. The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 29,000 in mid-January, a record high. Corporations are posting record profits, CEOs are, on average earning 312 times more than their workers on average in 2018, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Recently, it was revealed that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella got a 66 percent raise, bringing his total compensation to nearly $43 million. And last summer Abigail Disney, an heir to the Disney fortune, publicly criticized CEO Bob Iger’s $66 million pay package, which is more than 1,000 times the median pay of Disney employees.

CEOs of America’s largest companies got an average pay rise of 17.6 percent in 2017, taking home an average of $18.9 million in compensation while their employees’ wages stalled, rising just 0.3 percent over the year.

And AFL-CIO data shows that CEO pay continues to outpace the pay of working people. In the past 10 years, CEO pay at S&P 500 companies increased more than $500,000 a year to an average of $14.5 million in 2018. Meanwhile, the average production and non-supervisory worker saw a wage increase of $785 a year, earning on average just $39,888 in 2018.

“The Dow soars, wages don’t. Inequality in a nutshell,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted recently in response to an NBC tweet noting the Dow record. In 2019, the Dow jumped 22 percent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that average hourly earnings, rose a paltry 2.9 percent.

Nicole Bateman, a research analyst with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, discussed the wage and salary disparity in a paper she developed.

“Even as the U.S. economy hums along at a favorable pace, there is a vast segment of workers today earning wages low enough to leave their livelihood and families extremely vulnerable,” she said. “That’s one of the main takeaways from our new analysis, in which we found that 53 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 64—accounting for 44% of all workers—qualify as low-wage.”

“Their median hourly wages are $10.22, and median annual earnings are about $18,000. The existence of low-wage work is hardly a surprise, but most people—except, perhaps, low-wage workers themselves—underestimate how prevalent it is. Many also misunderstand who these workers are. They are not only students, people at the beginning of their careers, or people who need extra spending money. A majority are adults in their prime working years, and low-wage work is the primary way they support themselves and their families.”

Labor unions, progressive and liberal groups and individuals like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber and the Rev. Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s campaign have been vocal opponents of a rigged national economic system that has allowed the top one percent to thrive while corporate media is replete with stories about the unrelenting rise in inequality which has become a pivotal topic in the 2020 presidential race. Sens. Sanders and Warren both support a wealth tax. Last year, Sen. Sanders unveiled a proposal that would enforce a tax as high as eight percent on the ultrawealthy, raising an estimated $4.35 trillion over 10 years, if the calculations of economic consultants with both campaigns are correct.

“There should be no billionaires,” Sen. Sanders has said. “We are going to tax their extreme wealth and invest in working people.”

Turning back the clock

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has been warning the public about the danger posed to Black Americans, people of color, the poor and the most vulnerable by President Trump’s judicial appointments since he came into office. The president, Sen. Mitch McConnell (D-Ky.) and the Republican leadership have concentrated on ramming through nominations to federal, district and circuit courts with many called unqualified, others who are openly hostile racially, or have expressed or written in support of gender bias, while others refuse to accept settled law.

“This is a huge issue,” Ms. Clarke explained during a 2018 panel discussion on the effects of the Trump administration on the country. “There are 140 vacancies in federal courts. The judiciary has always mattered to Black people because it is a place of last resort. Ninety-nine percent of cases are heard in federal and district courts. Ninety-one percent of those Trump is putting forward are White and male and they are the fringe. He’s turning back the clock to the Jim Crow era.”

In the judicial sphere, political appointments by President Trump of federal judges was a major issue this year that has flown under the radar. With the help of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the unabashed support of Senate Republicans, President Trump has appointed 157 judges to the federal bench in less than three years. He has overseen the confirmation of more judges than any of his recent predecessors at the same point in their presidencies. Almost 30 percent of all U.S. Circuit Court judges are Trump appointees.

With the judges serving lifetime appointments, the effects of their conservative, far-right decisions will be seen and felt long after President Trump leaves office. The damage to civil rights, gender, employment and labor union activity, LGBTQIA and other issues will be significant and consequential, critics say.

Ms. Clarke told USA Today in 2018: “It is most unfortunate. It turns the clock back on years of work and effort that went into promoting judicial diversity.”

Dr. Monique Gamble reflects a common concern among Black women who participated in surveys conducted by the Melanie L. Campbell-led National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable Public Policy Network and said that racism was their number one concern in 2019. Dr. Gamble said America’s turn to the right, it’s embrace of White nationalism and extremism, the desire of Whites to police Black behavior and the unrelenting threats against Black people from all sides have caused deepening concern about the future of Blacks in America, she said.

She said she worries about the threat of the toxic racial environment on Black people. “Of equal concern, is the manner in which President Trump has attacked and eroded what many thought were America’s enduring institutions, including Congress, the courts, the media and the intelligence community,” said Dr. Gamble, visiting assistant professor of political science at the University of the District of Columbia.

“I have seen him flout norms and there’s no accountability. Without question, what we’ve seen during this presidency will, without question, will cause lasting damage,” she said. “I was an institutionalist who believed that what the founding fathers produced was unique and a progressive idea for those times. But this administration has blasted holes into institutions we were taught were impregnable.

“It feels like institutions as powerful as America has is being operated by people who are trash. Ultimately, these institutions are only as good as the people who adhere to them. It’s not just Donald Trump, it’s the enablers in the Senate and House. I am concerned that every level of our institutions has been broken.”

Dr. Gamble, an Alabama native, said the impeachment hearing in the House of Representatives where the Democratic majority returned two articles of impeachment against President Trump, reflect that depth of the problem.

“We’re seeing something in our lifetimes few of us ever expected to see. There was a clear obstruction of justice and a clear violation of what the president is supposed to do but the Senate will not do what’s required,” she said.

Warring for America’s soul

Even though President Trump appears to have been weakened by the impeachment hearings and a spate of scandals around his abuse of power and enriching himself and his family at the taxpayers’ expense, he could still win a second term in November. He is being helped by the fact that Democrats still haven’t chosen the person who will run against the president. The Democrats are bickering. Biden vs Bernie, Warren vs Bernie and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton recently caused consternation in Democratic circles after she made a statement that no one likes Bernie, no one wants to work with him. She later back tracked, saying she would support the Democratic nominee and defeating Mr. Trump was top priority.

The current warfare in the Democratic ranks could weaken the eventual nominee enough to allow President Trump to snatch a second term.

Dr. Gamble agrees with other observers that what’s playing out is a war for America’s soul, “but it’s deeper than most people think.” Dr. Gamble said she doesn’t trust the electorate to do the right thing in 2020, has lost faith in America’s institutions and doesn’t believe that Joe Biden is the “answer.”

“I’m fearful about the upcoming election because I’m not fully convinced someone won’t manipulate the electoral system again,” she said. “I don’t know what 2020 holds. Any number of terrible things is possible, such as Trump refusing to leave office and triggering a constitutional crisis. Folks are threatening violence and the House and Senate do nothing,” said Dr. Gamble.

“I’m always hopeful and optimistic but I have become a ‘show and prove’ person.”