It's not feasible to summarize in any facile way a country of 320 million with the cultural diversities of the United States. Yet it is useful to describe prominent divisions in the society that have roots in the country's history, are currently competing for control, and are likely to be with us for some time.So far, the President may be doing all right with the people. One poll "found 49% of voters believe the Trump administration is truthful, compared to 48% who do not. By contrast, 53% of voters find the news media untruthful, compared with 39% who find the media truthful."
"Us" is more appropriate than "them," given the centrality of the US to much of the world. We're not talking about a cultural struggle in a marginal country of Eastern Europe, or even someplace more removed from great events in Africa, Latin America, or Central Asia.
It's possible to exaggerate the strength of the US. It's no longer the economy with the most resources, but is in third place behind China and the European Union. However, it's at least two or three times the size of the national economies next in line.
Obama vs Trump is as good a summary of any for the two nations that compete for control of the United States.
It's a contrast still developing, with new dimensions appearing in the tweets or actions associated with a presidency having a record of only five weeks. Yet with all the distortions likely, it seems fair to summarize the differences in the following manner.
Obamaland, as defined by statements and actions of the just past administration, and continued in the campaign of Hillary Clinton, stands for an America concerned about the rights of racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; an expressed concern for the less fortunate at home and abroad; a welcome for the unfortunate who make it to America, an emphasis on diplomacy rather than force in international affairs; and a politically correct commitment to avoid seeing evil or enemies. Its components are several racial and ethnic minorities, as well as media and entertainment elites, along with whites having at least an undergraduate education.
Trumpland is a different America. Its population, as shown by those supporting the opposition to continuing Obamaland, are largely working class or middle income whites, most with less than a college education, who feel left out of what the previous administration pursued. So far the elected head of Trumpland has embarked on a declared campaign to undue much of what his predecessor had been doing over the course of two terms.
First in line was the Afordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare), with Trump and his Congressional colleagues wrestling with a promise to eliminate or significantly downsize the role of the central government, but seemingly delayed by the prospect of leaving too many of their voters without physicians in attendance.
Also in the agenda of Trumpland is a reversal of Obama's forgiveness of illegal immigrants, and an assertion of Americans first, the expulsion of illegals, greater awareness at international airports, and the construction of physical barriers to keep others out. Different from Obama's near embrace of Muslims is the trumpeting theme of Muslims as the most prominent of those threatening the US.
Deregulation in the name of entrepreneurial freedom is a prominent theme of Trumpland, except where the idea touches certain freedoms unwelcomed by the leader and many of his supporters. Some items favored by right wing Americans are due for more regulation.
Marijuana is one of those, due to be reregulated, against the wishes of residents in numerous states.
Where kids can pee also involves an increase in regulation, insofar as Trump's policy empowers right wing state and local authorities who see red when they think of someone changing gender or going into someone else's rest room..
There's also Trump's effort to regulate the media, as opposed to the openness and embraces of Obamaland. There have been White House efforts to stage press conferences with pre-selected questioners, and exclusions of the NY Times, CNN, and BBC, among others. Conservative organs are welcome, most notably Breitbart, The Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, and Fox News. AP and Time are among those whose people have stayed away in protest.
Democrats as well as Republicans are talking positively about Trump's speech to Congress, but it comes against more than a month of speaking and tweeting like a bull who got into the Oval Office.
National defense is positioned for strengthening in Trumpland, with greater resources promised, along with a renewed concern for updating the nuclear arsenal.
So far it seems that upper income investors have joined lower income whites in applauding Trump's promises and innovations. The S&P 500 has gone up 12 percent since the election, and by six percent since the inauguration.
It hasn't been easy to decide on what's likely. Commitments about the Affordable Care Act may be bogged down in details. Presidential comments suspicious of NATO have been followed by key appointees asserting the importance of working with the Europeans. We can only wonder whether the President aspires to a new relationship with Russia, is somehow beholden to Putin, or will be reigned in by party colleagues expressing a century old suspicion of what used to be the Communist Empire.
Israel serves to illustrate some of the differences between Obamaland and Trumpland.
Obama supporters describe high levels of aid and cooperation among security personnel of Israel and the United States, while skeptics or opponents see naivete, madness, disaster, or evil in statements and actions with respect to Egypt, Syria, and Israel-Palestine.
The complexity of comparing Obamaland and Trumpland comes to the fore with an outspoken defense of Israel and attack against the bias of the United Nations by the new US Ambassador, who is herself the child of immigrants and a member of the communities usually identified with Obamaland.
The image of two nations borrows from one of the classic novels in the English language. Sybil, or The Two Nations, was published in the midst of the 19th century by a man who was both author and politician, Jew and Christian. Its focus is on the two nations of rich and poor, and the luxuries of one as opposed to the miseries of the other.
There is no end of the speculators pondering the near and distant futures of Obamaland and Trumpland. Never before has there been so much nastiness this early in an administration. One can already perceive several reasons for impeachment in the President's verbal attack on federal courts, and the entanglements of family businesses with overseas entrepreneurs and government officials. At least some Republican office holders seem inclined to do away with a Trump presidency, but not enough, not yet.
More likely is the turning of the 2018 mid-term election into a Congressional referendum on Trump. The historical record is that the presidential party almost always loses House and Senate seats mid-term. Between 1934 and 2014, the Presidents' party lost an average of 27 seats in the House and 4 seats in the Senate. An average turnover in 2018 would not cause Trump to lose his Congressional majority of 44 in the House and 5 in the Senate. However, the 2018 election may not be any more typical than the Trump presidency.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem