By SABRINA TAVERNISE JAN. 28, 2017, New York Times
Image from article, with caption: At the Woman's March on Washington
It was a spring afternoon in Istanbul, and I was talking with a woman in beige
pumps and pearls who was angry about her government. It was taking the country in
the wrong direction, she said, and she had come out with thousands of other people
to protest. People from poor areas who supported the government were going
against their self-interest. “They’re only being manipulated,” she said.
Fast-forward 10 years to 2017. I am standing in a crowd of women wearing
fleeces and sensible shoes in Washington, D.C. Everything feels oddly familiar. They
were angry about the election and worried that it would take the country in the
wrong direction. Many people who supported the new president had voted against
their interests, they said.
I have covered political divides in Turkey, Russia, Pakistan and Iraq. The
pattern often goes like this: one country. Two tribes. Conflicting visions for how
government should be run. There is lots of shouting. Sometimes there is shooting.
Now those same forces are tearing at my own country.
Increasingly, Americans live in alternate worlds, with different laws of gravity,
languages and truths. Politics is raw, more about who you are than what you believe.
The ground is shifting in unsettling ways. Even democracy feels fragile.
President Trump has brought out these contrasts, like colors in a photograph
developing in a darkroom.
“I’m excited about change,” said Helene Lauzier, 37, who had driven to
Washington from Fall River, Mass., and was standing with her mother, Helen
Lauzier, 70, along the parade route on Inauguration Day. Both wore American flag
scarves and hats. She wanted Fall River to get some of its old industry back — fabric
and upholstery. The new industry is “medical, medical, medical,” she said. “But
people who might not be qualified to work in medical, what can we do?”
If that Friday felt like a wedding, that Saturday, the day of the women’s march,
was a feisty funeral.
Nan Nelson, 59, a retired geologist from Syracuse, was holding a sign that read
“Women Geologists Rock.”
“How can people be sucked in by this charlatan?” she said of Mr. Trump. “I have
talked to people who are struggling to keep their homes. But I just don’t understand
what they are expecting.”
She added: “He doesn’t face reality. He just makes things up and thinks it’s true.
That’s not my world.”
I first moved abroad in 1995. I was 24, and like the country I came from, I was
cocky. I visited ghostly Russian factory towns, where drunk and lonely people would
lament the loss of their jobs, their identities and their place in the world. I would
think: “Forget about the factory. Invent something. Get over it.”
Fifteen years later, when I moved back to America, swaths of my own country
were soaking in the same bitter mix. I became obsessed with these places. But their
stories were hard to sell to editors. The grievances were not new, the result of years
of economic decline and unmet expectations that left powerful resentment.
In Russia and the United States, those forces eventually punched their way into
politics and were harnessed by two skilled populists — Mr. Trump and Vladimir V.
Putin. It was a revolt against elites, who were seen as having driven the country into
the 2008 financial crisis without paying a price. Elites, who lived in isolated islands
of economic opportunity and sneered at people who didn’t — for not having a
passport, for liking Donald Trump.
“The vibe I get when they talk to me is they know the world is round and the
earth orbits the sun — they understand that — but they think that I think the earth is
flat,” Larry Laughlin, a retiree from Ham Lake, Minn., who voted for Mr. Trump,
said of liberals.
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University, calls it the clash
between globalists and nationalists. The globalists, who tend to be urban and college
educated, want a world like the one described in John Lennon’s song “Imagine” —
no religion, walls or borders dividing people. The nationalists see that as a vision of
hell. They want to defend their culture and emphasize the bonds of nationhood —
flag, Constitution, patriotism. They also want to limit immigration, an instinct that
globalists are often quick to condemn as racist.
It is one of the most profound fissures of the modern political era and has
upended politics in Europe, too.
“Global elites feel they have more in common with their friends in Paris or New
York than with their own countrymen,” said Lars Tragardh, a historian at Ersta
Skondal University College in Stockholm. “In their view of the world, the centrality
of citizenship gets lost, and that is very threatening to the nationalists.”
Mr. Trump’s slogan, America First, he said, “is not just about xenophobia, it’s
about taking citizenship seriously.”
That slogan repels people like Monica Martinez, a 44-year-old from Bethesda,
Md., who works for a nonprofit that helps people with autism and was marching that
Saturday. “He’s basically saying the lives of Americans are more important than the
lives of people in other places — than lives of people in Cambodia,” she said, giving
an example. She said she could not understand people who held that belief. “What
do I say to my kids about that? What do I say if they ask me, ‘Hey, Mom, what’s
wrong with putting America first?’ ”
Nationalists love it.
“He stood there and said, this is for you, this is your country, this is your
government,” Dianna Ploss, a Trump voter from Massachusetts, said of Mr. Trump’s
Inaugural Address. “That’s just amazing.”
Divides change. They can eventually cause social upheaval, political turmoil and
even violence. In Turkey, the protesting crowds turned out to be right. The
government did take their country in the wrong direction.
What will happen here? Social psychologists like Mr. Haidt say the best way to
ease polarization and reduce anxiety among the nationalists is to emphasize our
sameness. But in the crowds a week ago, no one seemed to be in the mood.
“It’s just so hard to understand them,” Maureen Sauer, 55, an account manager
in an insurance company from O’Fallon, Ill., said. “I guess they just wanted change?
I don’t get it.”
Ms. Ploss said that she was just as confused about the march. “I just don’t feel
like my rights are going to be violated,” she said. “Yet all these women don’t feel
safe? If I had had time, I would have asked them, ‘What are you fighting for?’ ”
“Here I am walking down the street with my red dress and my flag shawl and
people don’t even want to say hi,” she added. “What are we doing? What is
happening? Are we going to take up arms against each other?”
Sabrina Tavernise is a national correspondent for The New York Times