Some politicians weaponise polarisation and provoke it intentionally. The darker kind realise that if they become so controversial they can exploit with-me-or-against-me supporters’ aversion to any alternative.
They can ride, and generate, tsunamis of emotion and anger at will. Provocation rather than leadership prevails. Their opponents, worn down by one GUBU moment or tweet after another, disengage in something close enough to shock and a deepening sense of despair.
The less malign are simply divisive. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are polar opposites and, as Kipling put it, “never the twain shall meet” — despite the pressing need to reach a plausible agreement on Brexit.
Their conflict seems as much an expression of personality as policy. In an Irish context, it is fair to say that Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald rarely inspire neutrality.
Each, like Nigel Farage, champions a fundamental tribalism out of step with how the majority on this island view the world today, and even more importantly, the world tomorrow. Their tribalism is so visceral that they may not recognise their commonality.
Few, if any, of today’s politicians have weaponised polarisation like US President Donald Trump. He provokes a range of adjectives that could hardly be more conflicting.
The publication of Robert Mueller’s 448-page report underlined that reality again. Mr Trump’s supporters celebrate his vindication while his opponents focus on the “multiple links” between his presidential election campaign officials and Russian contacts documented by Mr Mueller.
Though Mr Trump and his supporters would shout down the suggestion, Mr Mueller, after examining a litany of incidents around charges of obstruction of justice, neither exonerated nor indicted Mr Trump, tacitly inviting Congress to resolve the conflict, one that could eventually lead to impeachment proceedings.
Despite that open file, the report describes a morally corrupt president who avoided — so far — prosecution on charges of obstruction of justice primarily because others refused to do his bidding. Mr Trump also shielded himself by refusing to be interviewed. That made it difficult to reach courtroom-standard “corruption” conclusions.
Mr Mueller states in the report:
In an echo from our long-ago beef tribunal, Mr Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, offered that ambivalence as an exoneration.
It is sad to recognise that there are hardly any conclusions Mr Mueller could have reached that would have provoked Mr Trump’s supporters to abandon him. His divide-and-conquer policies have won.
The tragedy deepens as a platoon of Democratic presidential hopefuls spend energy and resources defeating each other so they might stand against him next year.
Mr Trump is laughing all the way to Mar-a-Lago where the caddies call him Pele because he kicks the golf ball so often.