In the US, as elsewhere, there is an incipient movement to reduce single use plastics. Plastic straws, which are handed out with every drink one purchases, are being replaced by paper alternatives – or no straws at all.
In response, the Trump campaign has started selling red plastic straws with TRUMP printed on them. So far, sales of these straws have raised in excess of half a million dollars for the campaign.
This is a microcosm of what is happening to politics almost everywhere: every issue of political debate has been transformed into a culture war of identity politics.
Being against any form of environmental regulation is now part of the personal identity of Trump’s base – as it is with supporters of Jair Bolsonaro. No kind of discussion is possible – or even desired.
Neither is the fomenting of culture wars the preserve of the political right – as many on the left and centre left seem to have convinced themselves.
In the UK, the Labour Party is riven with its own internal culture war, with each faction disdaining the other.
Brexit has long descended into an ugly battle of identity politics – Leavers accusing Remainers of being anti-democratic, unpatriotic, traitorous fear-mongers; Remainers accusing Leavers of being ill-educated xenophobic racists hell bent on bringing forth destruction.
A characteristic of identity politics is that each side fervently comes to believe that its own position commands the moral high ground and is unchallengeable. As with religious fundamentalism, any disagreement or challenge is interpreted either as a personal affront, or as a sure sign of moral turpitude.
Any hint of compromise is seen as selling out to the devil.
The net result of such deeply-held convictions that become integral to one’s own identity, is that all sides, yes, all sides, end up descending into the political gutter, while blaming the other side for being the sole cause of all ills.
Conversation becomes impossible and the social fabric becomes fractured.
That this is happening almost everywhere, and around almost every issue, is clear. The more important question is whether it is reversible and, if so, how?
Any and all ideas would be most welcome. We all desperately need them.