Donald Trump: Symptom of America’s Spiritual Malaise
The following is an editorial by Armstrong Williams.
Many people who find the President’s behavior and tenor at times divisive and confronting lament that he is ‘dividing’ the country. What they may fail to realize, however, is that President Trump became a leader of a country that was already deeply divided.
The signs were obvious long before Trump took office or even considered running in the past election. We lived through a decade-long recession in which national leaders failed to come together on issues of critical mutual concern – health care, the national deficit, critical infrastructure spending, and reducing our national dependence on globalism and foreign intervention.
We saw culture wars deeply divide the electorate, whether it came to gay marriage, gender-specific public facilities, and even the meaning of the national flag and confederate monuments. These divisions worsened over the years and culminated in an election that brought an unlikely and certainly novel personality to the stage as representative of American democracy.
These divisions continue to rage on unabated. And they are not merely split along ideological and political party lines, although they may appear to play out that way. When GOP voters were asked in the most recent CNN poll whether they approved or disapproved of Trump’s relationship with Republicans in Congress, 68% responded that they approved. While this is a majority it pales in comparison to the approval rating of GOP voters when questioned about other aspects of Trump’s leadership, such as whether Trump will lead the country in the right direction. Fully 85% of GOP voters who responded thought Trump was leading the country in the right direction.
This points to a serious fracture, not across the political divide, but within the GOP itself. While Trump does lead the party, almost a third of the Republicans find themselves at odds with the President. This is a remarkably low approval rate among his own party for a President less than a year into his first term.
The country is certainly divided, but not just along traditional political lines. We are divided at the very level of our souls. The marches in Charlottesville and the counter-protests in the NFL portray two different, and yet differently bad Americas. The chants of ‘blood and soil’ among Charlottesville marchers decrying what they say is a diminishing status of white identity stand in stark contrast to an American creed of constitutionalism that guarantees all an opportunity irrespective of race or heritage.
The NFL players’ protests mark another extreme in the widening polarity. Seen from afar, many find it incredulous that these celebrated and highly-paid players could have any complaint about the country that has afforded them so much wealth and opportunity. The players – many of who come from communities that exist in the dark shadow of the American dream - see that often, despite their economic status, their race places them and their communities in peril when it comes to interacting with law enforcement.
So here we are; many blacks and wealthy, educated whites peering incredulously at poor whites who feel marginalized in their own country. They cannot for a minute fathom that so-called ‘white privilege’ has left them behind. And on the other side of the spectrum, Stadiums full of fans who feel incredulous that rich, privileged black athletes could have any complaint about race relations in this country.
And so, because we are so divided and out of touch, we each reach for the lowest common denominator. Blacks are merely disrespecting our law first-responders and military members. Whites are merely calling for the days of slavery and racism to return. These are each intractable positions. There’s no room to deal from these corners of sectarianism, where something clearly American as Sunday night football, or as historically significant as a statue of Robert E. Lee become fodder in the war over America’s soul.
And into the fray walk the politicians. They slice and dice the electorate into ever smaller groups, pitting one group against the other. It is as calculated and cynical an approach to divide and rule as has ever been put on public display in our country. The more we try and ignore by sticking to our carefully prepared scripts, the more we nibble around the edges of the coarsening of the discourse, the worse the situation seems to get.
Our American dilemma has been plainly aired on the global stage. Allies and enemies alike are starting to seriously consider whether or not the American experiment has run its course. They are using America’s shrinking moral authority as a cover for the reemergence of despotism and cruelty. We see it in the increase in brazen political assassinations in Malta and in Turkey, and in China’s signaling its’ own ambitions at increasing global political influence.
We have come to a place in this country where we may believe that our current military superiority gives us the bully pulpit in world affairs. This is a direly deficient perspective. It was never America’s military might that brought it to the fore of World leadership. It was our democratic system and the values of freedom and opportunity that made us the beacon on the hill. Without that salient moral illumination, we, and large parts of the world, will likely perish.