If there is one thing on which Americans today can possibly agree, it is that we as a nation are more deeply divided politically than at any time in decades – possibly even since the Civil War. The primary cause of this great divide is President Donald J. Trump and our polar-opposite perceptions of who he is.
Where one side sees a strong leader, the other side sees a crude bully. Where one side sees chaos and instability, the other side sees well-thought-out plans to disrupt the status quo. And, where one side sees someone lacking in intelligence and/or knowledge, the other side sees a “stable genius” at work on a master plan to “Make America Great Again.”
While the political divide between Republicans and Democrats has been growing for many years, Trump’s entrance onto the political stage has raised the intensity of the division to a level that would have been impossible to predict just a few short years ago. And, in spite of the president’s words in his inaugural address that “A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions,” there is virtually zero chance that Mr. Trump will ever be able do anything to heal the divisions that he has created.
In addition to the starkly different perceptions of our president, there are three ancillary reasons why our country is likely to remain deeply divided as long as Mr. Trump remains in office.
The first reason is that Trump’s supporters and opponents trust completely different sources of information. There are the obvious different media sources — Fox News (Trump’s favorite) and conservative talk radio stations on one side versus most of the “mainstream media” (“fake news”) on the other side. But the difference in information sources goes far beyond the media. Trump’s opponents tend to trust “experts in the field,” such as scientists on global warming, renowned economists on trade and tax issues, U.S. intelligence agencies on issues such as Russia’s election meddling, and generals and diplomats on issues such as defense alliances. Trump’s supporters, on the other hand, seem to have tremendous trust that the president knows more about all of these subjects than the “so-called experts.”
Another key reason for division is a difference of opinion about the methods Trump uses to achieve his goals. While some of Trump’s supporters express concern about his crude tweets, lies and bullying, others actually like his aggressive and “non-politically correct” approach to his job, and virtually all of his supporters seem to be much more concerned about his results (more jobs; fewer illegal immigrants; tax cuts, NATO funding, etc.) than his methods.
In contrast, the president’s critics express deep concerns about the collateral damage that often follows in the wake of the chaos he creates while attempting to achieve his goals. They believe, for example, that encouraging NATO members to up the ante for their defense is one thing, but launching a public (and some would say childish) attack on our allies might do more harm than good in the long run. Similarly, they might support tough action against China on trade, but recoil in disbelief at Trump’s attacks and threats against the leader of Canada, our very best trading partner, and the leader of Great Britain, one of our oldest and closest allies.
And the third reason Trump will be unable to bring the country together is his off-the-charts obsession with being the center of attention at all times, making it impossible for political tensions to ever subside. Reminding one of Louis XIV’s proclamation that “L’etat c’est moi” (“I am the state”), Trump frequently claims that “I alone” can solve the nation’s many problems, and he is in the nation’s collective face constantly with his tweets, rallies and interviews. It is the unrelenting presence of Trump in our lives that has led to the hardening of attitudes on both sides. While supporters seem to love his indefatigable brashness and politically incorrect attitudes, opponents have come to view him as a reckless clown who embarrasses our country on almost a daily basis.
How can there be hope for compromise and reconciliation as long as attitudes such as these persist?
Lee Raudonis is a former communications director and executive director of the Georgia Republican Party. He also worked for several Republican elected officials in Georgia and the U.S. Congress.