‘The country’s divided’
Amid Trump’s shake up, many wondering ‘what’s coming next’
Days into an administration that promised to govern by upheaval, Donald Trump’s White House has been the target of massive protests, defied reporters who questioned fact-challenged statements and issued a blur of lightning-rod executive actions. The speed and depth of it all have left many Americans apprehensive: Even some who longed for a shake-up are unsettled by a sense of chaos it has unleashed.
“We’re in a very fragile state right now,” said Margaret Johnson of Germantown, Maryland, who runs a small translation business. “We don’t know what’s coming next. The country’s divided. There’s a lot of fear. And I think we’re kind of at that point where things can go any kind of way, and it’s really hard to say which way they’re going to go.”
That uncertainty finds an echo in Pastor Mike Bergman’s church in Adrian, Missouri, 40 miles south of Kansas City, where many congregants count themselves as conservatives and embrace the new administration’s order cutting off funding to international groups that provide abortions. But as church members consider another order — restricting refugees and pausing entry to the U.S. from several Muslimmajority countries — worries about security are tempered by concern about the needs of refugees and whether Trump’s rhetoric is widening the gulf between Americans, Bergman said.
“There is worry about how deep the divide is going to run. There is worry about some of the political rhetoric ... about how all that is going to cause the divide in the community to deepen and more bitterness to spring up between the people of our country. I wouldn’t say we’re really optimistic right now,” he said.
Trump is hardly the first president to take office promising wholesale change in the face of substantial skepticism. But Kevin Boyle, a professor of American history at Northwestern University, said the new administration has put itself at the centre of an extraordinary political moment.
Boyle hears echoes of the Ronald Reagan era in Trump’s attempts to alter the role of government; this administration’s willingness to play on division rather than serve as a calming influence is reminiscent of Richard Nixon. The mass protests since inauguration day are reminiscent of some of the upheaval of the 1960s. Still, Boyle said, the tensions swirling around Trump’s administration are unique.
“I cannot in my adult life think of a moment that compares to this,” he said. “The level of tension between these two competing visions of the country needs to be resolved in some way or another.”
Trump’s actions have unsettled Suzanne Kawamleh, 24, a graduate student born in Chicago to parents who emigrated from Syria. On Saturday night, Kawamleh said, she joined protesters outside the terminal at O’Hare International Airport to protest the executive order stopping Syrian refugees from entering the country. The next day, she told a crowd gathered at the county courthouse in Bloomington, Indiana, about how her relatives had fled Syria by boat and ended up in a refugee camp before finding refuge in Germany.
Last year, Kawamleh said, she and her father were taken off a flight for questioning when they returned from Lebanon to do relief work in a refugee camp. But that scrutiny, she said, pales with Trump’s executive order, which forced a family friend from Syria who had flown to the U.S. to visit a sick relative to return to the Middle East on Saturday.
“Immediately after the order, everything changed. There wasn’t a chance to plead your case,” she said. “It seems like everything is very in flux. People don’t know what’s going on.”
In this Jan. 29 photo, a protester waves a U.S. flag as another holds a sign that reads “Let Them In” during a march and rally to oppose President Donald Trump’s executive order barring people from certain Muslim nations from entering the United States, in downtown Seattle.