Sudha David-Wilp is Senior Transatlantic Fellow and Deputy Head of the Berlin Office of Germany’s Marshall Funds of the United States
For the first time in nearly a decade, friends are telling me not to go back to America, regardless of who wins the presidential election. I’m not surprised. The comedy show “Saturday Night Live” put it in a nutshell: “You know your country is in trouble when people doubt that President Trump actually had Covid-19.”
The government’s distrust and developments such as growing income inequality and polarization are not new in America, they have increased in intensity even before the era of President Trump and will not disappear overnight.
When I started working in Washington DC in 2004, ten years after Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution, Congressmen complained about the poisoned atmosphere on Capitol Hill and got nostalgic when they talked about the Senate and Congress bipartisan rule that ended Gingrich would have. The former House Speaker has introduced a new level of aggressive behavior and was partly responsible for the government’s longest shutdown – before the record was broken last year.
I’m still working with US MPs and guess what, compared to the turn of the century, what’s the good old days today?
So there was political polarization before, but in early 2020 the National Bureau of Economic Research measured in a country comparison study of nine OECD countries that the United States had experienced the largest increase in polarization in four decades.
The dispute between the parties has now reached a point where it no longer knows any boundaries in the field of foreign policy. In the past, a united front was considered essential to defend US interests, but now Republicans and Democrats have different views on international agreements and development aid.
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And beyond these beliefs, the disagreement and mistrust at home have created a real environment of hatred and hostility. A September YouGov poll found that nearly three-quarters of Americans expect post-election violence. There are reasons to believe that, because one in three Americans who call themselves Republican or Democrat thinks violence is justified to advance their party’s goals.
Recently, a plot to kidnap the Michigan governor, who is often the target of President Trump’s Twitter rants or his verbal abuse during election rallies, was thwarted. So the political poison has consequences. And it’s not just about awkward Thanksgiving conversations, but also about behavior in society.
And while on the one hand it is great that my kids can see that a woman like Senator Kamala Harris could make it to the White House, on the other I am shocked to see politicians publicly mock her first name, her grandmother’s first name – Keyword “Kamala-mala-mala- whatever”
I don’t want to sell an organ to pay for my children
The lack of willingness to work between the parties and declare themselves hostile to each other has stalled in Washington. My kids started the school calamity when the family talked about returning to America. School shootings were sporadic when I went to school myself, but now they are increasing.
I wish I could tell the kids this only happens in certain areas, but Parkland high school could have been near me. And even the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy could not encourage Congress to push through meaningful arms reforms. Instead, the FBI just reported an increase in arms sales this year due to massive social and economic unrest.
The pandemic has exposed our weaknesses when it comes to racial disparities, income inequality and access to healthcare. It has also led to a crisis in higher education. College costs have skyrocketed, although the proportion of people now earning more than their parents has declined.
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The quality of higher education in America is top-notch, but the university’s debt burden is paralyzing. It harms social mobility and makes it difficult to realize the American dream. I wish my kids could have their college campus experience in America, but I don’t feel like selling an organ to pay for it.
Friends mean well with their warning, because it will likely get worse before it gets better. The good news is that instead of turning away, millions of Americans have already cast their votes thinking, “It really matters who wins the presidency.” More important than at any other time in the past 20 years.
There’s also more agreement than you might think, according to a new study from the Common Ground Initiative: The majority of Americans believe that business, fairness, and equal opportunity are important. And there is also a realization that America cannot be really big if it doesn’t remove the inequalities and divisions within its own country. The turning point could come just in time for my move.