STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Divisions within America have never been so intense since the American Civil War that nearly divided the North and South. The roots of this divide date back to the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery by President Lincoln on January 1st, 1863 as Civil War raged. It freed thousands of slaves each day in Confederate territory as Union troops advanced.

Americans are unique in some ways. In cities they are always in a hurry, in rural areas never in a hurry. I recollect an experience in mid-80’s. I was in New York on business staying downtown. As an American hallmark, it was an intense experience hopping from one meeting to another, always under time pressure. As a respite I accepted an invite by a university friend to his place in Long Island to catch up on old times. By then I had become familiar with trains, so I volunteered to take one to save him a commute.

Anyone familiar with Union Square Station will vouch that all users walk fast, seemingly in a hurry. On my way for a restful weekend, I realized I was doing the same under peer pressure. I deliberately slowed down before boarding Long Island Express. During my train ride I reflected on attitudes that become a part of you; impacted by surroundings and environment.

In the same trip I visited a small town in South Georgia. It was a machinery dealership located on the edge of a huge farm. Our host’s workers included those of color. While we were inspecting some equipment, one young colored worker injured himself. He was bleeding profusely; the sight of red on black is etched in my memory. Instead of caring for the injured, the “gentleman farmer” gave the “boy” a verbal lashing for being careless and instructed a co-worker to take the “idiot” for a bandage. We moved on without a mention, but the callous behavior of our otherwise generous host betrayed a fault line.

It is factors like these that bring forth the blue and red divide prevailing in American society. These simmering embers were turned up when President Obama came to office on a popular wave. Resentment grew amongst the whites which were sharpened when President Trump took office. I have written previously on damage inflicted on American psyche by this maverick with a sadly twisted value system.

It all came to a head in 2020. American democracy was raided from all the four corners. Corona virus, prevalent systemic racism, a faltering economy causing record unemployment and loss of business, and the bitter fruits of climate change.

UK is considered the cradle of democracy; however, USA had emerged as the most vibrant democracy in the 20th century. It took on the torch of freedom, liberty and opportunity for all, becoming a magnet for those seeking a better future. It became a melting pot for all races and religions from around the globe and the torchbearer of hope. It boasts 200 years of institution building to safeguard democracy. All that came under severe threat by Trump in 2016. He started to undo the painstaking efforts undertaken to entrench democratic values in US society.

In 2020 the system came perilously close to unraveling. In the most divisive election since American Civil War, Trump harped on the differences in society rather than what brings them together. He scoffed at racial inequality, termed global warming a myth, tried to brush COVID 19 under the carpet and drove businesses to a grinding halt without a coherent economic plan or a rescue strategy. He turned the Republican base into a personal cult fanning hatred.

I closely followed these elections and had predicted that Democrats will retain the House of Representatives and regain control of Senate and Presidency. However, I failed to visualize that these results would be achieved by the skin of the teeth. It was the largest turnout in American history when 155 million voted. While the final result show that Biden won by 7 million votes, in the convoluted Electoral College system only a tiny margin of 44,000 votes in key swing states gave Biden the Presidency.

A fascist to the core, Trump refused to concede being a sore loser. He mounted nearly 60 legal challenges against the results. In each case they were thrown out at all levels of the courts. Finally, on Wednesday 6th January he launched the fiercest challenge to American democracy ever known by orchestrating a viscious attack on Capitol Hill by his misled raving thugs. American democracy survived and reacted the following Wednesday by impeaching him the 2nd time and on the third Wednesday installed Joe Biden as the 46th President.

A sweet revenge for democracy. But the nation is torn and sorely divided on all the four issues identified above. Beautifully defined by young Amanda Gorman “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy, and this effort very nearly succeeded.” She gave hope by stating “democracy may be delayed, it cannot be defeated.” President Biden gave a call for unity urging those who oppose him “to at least give him a hearing.” The divisions run deep in a polarized society and challenges are immense. Americans have to go through a period of healing to become the “United States of America” rather than “Red or Blue States.”

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