Trump’s divide-and-conquer strategy

If Robert Mueller finds that Trump colluded with Russia to fix the 2016 election, or even if Trump fires Mueller before he makes such a finding, Trump’s supporters will protect Trump from any political fallout.

Trump’s base will stand by him not because they believe Trump is on their side, but because they define themselves as being on his side.

Trump has intentionally cleaved America into two warring camps: pro-Trump and anti-Trump. And he has convinced the pro-Trumps that his enemy is their enemy.

Most Americans are not passionate conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats. But they have become impassioned Trump supporters or Trump haters.

Polls say 37 percent of Americans approve of him, and most disapprove. These numbers are the tips of two vast icebergs of intensity.

Trump has forced all of us to take sides, and to despise those on the other. There’s no middle ground.

The Republican Party used to stand for fiscal responsibility, state’s rights, free trade, and a hard line against Russian aggression. Now it just stands for Trump.

Pro-Trump Republicans remain the majority in the GOP. As long as Trump can keep them riled up, and as long as Republicans remain in control of at least one chamber of Congress, he’s safe.

“Try to impeach him, just try it,” Roger Stone, Trump’s former campaign adviser, warned last summer. “You will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen.”

That’s probably an exaggeration, but Trump (with the assistance of his enablers in Congress) has convinced his followers that the Russian investigation is part of a giant conspiracy to unseat him, and that his enemies want to replace him with someone who will allow dangerous forces to overrun America.

Sure, this paranoia is based on the same racism and xenophobia that has smoldered in America since its inception. Trump’s strategy is to stoke it daily.

Sure, American politics had polarized before Trump. Trump’s strategy is to exploit and enlarge these divisions.

A few months ago, I traveled to Kentucky and talked with a number of Trump supporters.

They looked and sounded nothing like traditional conservative Republicans. Most were working class. Several were members of labor unions. All were passionate about Trump.

Why do you support him? I asked. “He’s shaking Washington up,” was the typical response.

I mentioned his lies. “He’s telling it like it is,” several told me. “He speaks his mind.”

I talked about his attacks on democracy. “Every other politician is on the take,” they said. “He isn’t. He doesn’t need their money.”

I asked about his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. They told me they didn’t believe a word of it. “It’s a plot to get rid of him.”

By making himself the center of an intensifying conflict, Trump grabs all the attention and fuels even greater passions on both sides.

It’s what he did in the 2016 election, but on a far larger scale. Then, he sucked all the oxygen out of the race by making himself its biggest story. Now, he’s sucking all the oxygen out of America by making himself our national obsession.

Trump received more coverage in the 2016 election than any presidential candidate in American history. Hillary Clinton got far less, and what she got was almost all about her emails.

Schooled in reality television and New York tabloids, Trump knows how to keep both sides stirred up: Vilify, disparage, denounce, defame, and accuse the other side of conspiring against America. Do it continuously. Dominate every news cycle.

Fox News is his propaganda arm, magnifying his tweets, rallies, and lies. The rest of the media also plays into Trump’s strategy by making him the defining controversy of America. Every particular dispute—DACA, the “wall,” North Korea, Mueller’s investigation, and so on—becomes another aspect of the larger national war over Trump.

It’s the divide-and-conquer strategy of a tyrant.

Democracies require sufficient social trust that citizens regard the views of those they disagree with as worthy of equal consideration to their own. That way, they’ll accept political outcomes they dislike.

Trump’s divide-and-conquer strategy is to destroy that trust.

So if Mueller finds Trump colluded with Russia, or Trump fires Mueller before Mueller makes such a finding, the pro-Trumps will block any consequential challenge to his authority.

Nothing could be more dangerous to our democracy and society.

This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.

Robert B. Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley and former secretary of labor under the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His film, Inequality for All, was released in 2013. Follow him on Twitter: @RBReich.

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