Is America So Divided Because We Like It That Way?

Last year, rhetoric about “uniting the nation” was virtually absent from the presidential campaign trail — an observation applied equally to President Trump and all the Democrats vying to unseat him. Henceforth, will the concept of “uniting” make a 2020 comeback? No, and here’s why: The plague of polarization has so thoroughly infiltrated the American psyche that even asking the question, “Who can unite the nation?” sounds like a quaint 20th-century flashback.

That’s because it is from back in May 1999 when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush famously stated, “I’m a uniter, not a divider,” describing his governing style. He campaigned on bringing that philosophy to the White House after the divisive impeachment and unsavory behavior of President Clinton. (Some would argue that the polarization we are experiencing today is rooted in the Clinton years.)

“Unity” — a foundational concept so fundamental to our country that upon birthing the nation our founders included “united” in the name. Even then, we know Americans were not totally united, especially over the issue of slavery. However, today, those male, white-privileged, slave-owning founders would be aghast how the nation has morphed from the USA to the DPA (Divided People of America).

Worse, the DPA is fractured into subsets: rich vs. poor; white vs. non-white; skilled vs. non-skilled; health insurance holders vs. those with none; urban vs. rural; climate change believers vs. deniers; Trump lovers vs. Trump haters; Christians vs. everyone else; pro-life vs. pro-choice; vegan vs. meat-eaters; fake media vs. real media (whatever is “real” to you); millennials vs. boomers; working people vs. special interests; social justice vs. criminal justice; of course, Republicans vs. Democrats — and the list goes on and on.

About the only issue on which DPA citizens agree is that 2020 will host the most contentious presidential election in modern history. A key reason for the ever-increasing raucousness of our quadrennial exercise in democracy is an overarching problem permeating American culture — the lost art of compromise.

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The road to unity begins with compromise, but the word and the action itself, have become politically incorrect and associated with weakness. Long ignored is the wisdom of President Ronald Reagan: “I have always figured that a half a loaf is better than none, and I know that in the democratic process, you’re not going to always get everything you want.”

Now the prevailing attitude within the DPA is “let the bread go stale and fight until you win a whole loaf.” No citizen or elected leader wants to give an inch on any issue or belief we hold dear. Truthfully, we don’t want to be united.

Furthermore, generally speaking, we, the DPA are happily divided because we have constructed and live inside a “moat” of our own making. We gather news from sources compatible with our beliefs. Our friends/spouses think as we do (and if not, those relationships either end or become strained.) The problem arises when the holidays “force” families together. (And next Thanksgiving just after the 2020 election I recommend bringing protective gear to the table.)

The word that best describes the 2020 political year is “fight.” So buckle up if you plan to engage and arm yourself with talking points. For the “red” half of the DPA, the Trump campaign posted talking points at snowflakevictory.com, “How to win an argument with your liberal relatives.” The points — initially conceived to help proud MAGA hat wearers through the holidays — are still applicable for now.

Meanwhile, the “blue” side of the DPA is still fighting over their specific fighting points. But here is the 2020 trench warfare rah-rah message from the official campaign site of the leading Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden displayed under “Joe’s Vision for America:”

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“We’re in a battle for the soul of America. It’s time to remember who we are. We’re Americans: tough, resilient, but always full of hope. It’s time to treat each other with dignity. Build a middle class that works for everybody. Fight back against the incredible abuses of power we’re seeing. It’s time to dig deep and remember that our best days still lie ahead.”

Now, contrast that with Team Trump’s official campaign site in the “Promises Kept” section “About President Donald J. Trump’s accomplishments”:

“While serving in office, President Trump has continuously delivered for the American people to put America First both at home and abroad.

“The president has appointed conservative justices to our federal courts, provided the largest tax cuts for working-class families in American history, has ISIS on the run, and is committed to a safe and secure nation.

“Learn of the many accomplishments of President Trump that often go unreported by the Fake News Media as he continues to Make America Great Again.”

In the cavernous divide between Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” and Biden’s “We’re in the battle for the soul of America,” stands “a house divided against itself.” In 1858, Abraham Lincoln said such a house “cannot stand,” prophetically and famously quoting Jesus.

At the start of 2020, our “divided house” is still standing, but the problem is that we just can’t stand the other side. And no leader is going to change that.