External Affairs

Donald Trump’s Dark Vision Could Lead to the Divided States of America

An American worries for his Indian family but also sees hope in the fact that a vast majority of Americans do not support Donald Trump.

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order to impose tighter vetting of travellers entering the United States on January 27, 2017. Credit: Reuters

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order to impose tighter vetting of travellers entering the United States on January 27, 2017. Credit: Reuters

From the deafening invective that was his inaugural address to the wrongheaded executive orders he has issued thus far, Donald Trump’s actions have been anything but conciliatory since becoming president of the US. Rather than attempt to unify, he continues to pander to the minority of Americans who elected him, peddling a small-minded and shortsighted vision of ‘America First’ that will quickly have my country racing towards the last position.

Trump’s dark assessment of life in the US may appeal to some Americans, but he certainly doesn’t speak for me.

Watching his inaugural address while vacationing in India with my Indian wife, our young son and my wife’s parents, I was disheartened and scared. A part of me was happy to be so far from home, surrounded by people I loved, celebrating life and togetherness in a house beside the Arabian Sea. And yet, I also felt a profound sense of loss – saddened to know that when I returned home, it would be to a different America than the one I journeyed from. It was my sixth visit to India, but Washington D.C. had never before felt so far away.

Trump’s first weeks in office have shown that his actions are at least as bad as his words. Already, he has worked to decisively change America’s course on immigration, the environment and healthcare. This, while attempting to control the flow of information and disgracing the office he holds by propagating ‘alternative facts’ and belittling federal judges.

Where does one turn for hope in a time like this?

Fortunately, most Americans disapprove of our new demagogue-in-chief. Like ‘Brexit’ in the UK and other quasi-populist movements in Europe, Trump’s brand of ethno-nationalism has an appeal that is limited. Sure, he enjoys robust support in some parts of the country—communities that feel left behind in a changing, increasingly interconnected world. Understandably, many people in such places want to be told that things can be better, that drastic changes are coming, and that their misfortune is the fault of others (immigrants, politicians and the media). But most Americans don’t live in such places and aren’t falling for Trump’s con. In Boston, New York City and San Francisco, for example, only one-in-ten voters cast their ballot for Donald Trump.

What happened to unity? Back in 2004, Barack Obama, then a state senator, delivered a now famous keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. He refuted the notion of two Americas “red states for republicans, blue states for democrats” appealing instead to the power of sameness: “we are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.” His idealism seems almost quaint today. With opportunities, worldviews, news sources and versions of ‘the truth’ varying widely across America, ours is truly a nation divided.

The dichotomy between today’s two Americas is a major reason Trump was elected. This is unquestionably unfortunate. And yet, now, with this unqualified, vapid, misogynistic, deceitful man serving as president, it is the very two-ness of America, the gulf that separates Trump’s supporters from his many detractors, that gives me hope.

I was flying back to the US from India on the day Trump enacted his infamous travel ban. Reading about it as I prepared to board my connecting flight in Dubai, I felt embarrassed, angry and powerless. I worried about my wife and son, who had stayed behind in India to spend a precious few more days with family. Had that been a mistake? Sure, at the time India wasn’t on Trump’s list of banned countries, but what if that changed? Could my wife of six years, an Indian citizen and US green card holder, be prevented from entering the US?

And what of the families who did come from countries listed on Trump’s ban? Families just like mine – their lives turned upside-down – simply because they held the wrong passport; the wrong piece of paper.

Upon landing in San Francisco, I walked into the arrivals terminal and immediately began to feel better. People of all races and walks of life had amassed to protest the travel ban. Similar scenes were unfolding spontaneously at airports around the country. Within hours, a court would disallow sending impacted travellers back to their countries. A week later, another would place the entire travel ban on hold. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Going forward, there will undoubtedly be more challenges, more executive orders, and more setbacks. But the response to the travel ban gives me faith that my country can withstand the test of Trump. American’s won’t stand for his fear mongering, and our judicial system is prepared to review and strike down illegal or unconstitutional actions.

It is important to remember that Trump is historically unpopular. Despite his wildly inaccurate claims to the contrary, he won the presidency by only the narrowest of margins. His Electoral College victory ranks 46th out of 58 elections. He is one of only a handful of presidents to win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote. A mere 39,000 votes out of 136 million (0.03%) gave Trump the presidency over Hilary Clinton by putting him over the top in three states; Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Nationally, he lost by 2.9 million votes.

And so, with only four-in-ten Americans approving of his performance, inauguration crowds that were far smaller than those of his predecessor and millions more protesting his actions than supporting them, Trump should face steady opposition to his backwards and divisive agenda. Given his audacious plans to reverse recent progressive accomplishments and turn his back on decades of American foreign policy, I can only hope the levee holds. If not, it is entirely possible that his dark vision of life in America will become a reality.

Brian L Block, MD is an Internal Medicine physician in San Francisco, California. He is currently pursuing subspecialty training in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.