I am old enough to have lived through some deep national divisions.
* We have the Vietnam War that tore us into two camps: Hawks vs. Doves. The Hawks wanted to fight the war to a battlefield victory; the Doves wanted out of that conflict. Riots erupted in our streets. Blood flowed.
* Then came Watergate. A team of goofballs sought to break into the Democratic National Committee offices. They were arrested and charged with burglary. Then it went downhill from there. President Nixon’s re-election committee became involved. The president sought to cover it up. Republicans stood behind the president; Democrats wanted his political head to roll. The president resigned.
* After that, President Clinton faced impeachment. Why? Ostensibly it was because he lied to a grand jury about his relationship with That Woman. Republicans were looking for a reason to impeach him. The president gave it to them. Republicans detested Clinton from the beginning of his presidency. Democrats stood firmly with him. The Senate acquitted Clinton.
* And then we had the 2000 election. President Bush was elected despite getting fewer popular votes than Vice President Al Gore. It came down to Florida’s results. They started recounting the ballots. The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to stop the recount. Bush was elected with 537 votes to spare in Florida. He won the state’s electoral votes. Republicans hailed the victory; many Democrats never quite got over it.
All of those prior divisions seem to pale in comparison to what we’re witnessing now. Donald J. Trump won on a platform that preached nativism, nationalism, populism. It’s us against them. He vowed to “put America first” and to “make America great again.”
He also vowed to “unify” the nation.
The president has done nothing of the sort. Indeed, it strikes me that he’s deliberately sought to do precisely the opposite. He keeps re-litigating the election, which he won! He keeps picking needless fights with pro football players who protest police practices, with media representatives, with Gold Star families.
This is how you unify the country?
Just today, the president lined up with a GOP Senate candidate who’s been accused of sexual assault on children. Why is that? Because he’s not a Democrat! The president’s base adores this kind of rhetoric. It doesn’t matter how divisive it is and how it contradicts what the president himself vowed to do after winning a bitter, contentious, hateful campaign.
I can speak only for the eras I have witnessed. This era’s division seems deeper than anything I have watched in the past 50 years.
The worst element of this division is that its catalyst occupies the White House.