When was the last time we had a President of the United States we all agreed was legitimate?
Bill Clinton was impeached. George W. Bush became president by an act of the Supreme Court, along political party lines. Barack Obama was considered ineligible by some who were convinced he was born in Kenya. And the Russians elected Donald Trump.
Each of these men was elected in a reaction to his predecessor. Clinton, a down-home Democrat from Arkansas followed the patrician George H.W. Bush. Then we elected the squeaky clean, born-again Bush to succeed the scandal-plagued Clinton. “W” was considered by some to be intellectually challenged, so next came the professorial Obama, who never met a nuance he could overlook. And the first black president was followed by a racist who seemed to encourage the worst impulses in his rowdy followers.
Are these over-simplifications? Of course. Clinton and his predecessor both were Yalies. “W” wasn’t as dumb as some thought, though he felt he was over his head so he delegated decisions to Rumsfeld and Cheney. Obama and Trump are both more and less than people on both sides give them credit for. But the issue is what does all this say about us, the people who elected them and have to live with the consequences.
Politics is a pendulum, constantly rocking left and right. Actions with opposite and (sometimes) equal reactions. But those reactions are driving a spike through the heart and soul of our nation.
With each of them, we have become more polarized, the discourse more feral. The result is we can’t talk to each other. Families fear holiday dinners. Couples become uncoupled over political discourse that veers into subjects that are best left unaddressed. [Can she be so dumb? Can he really be so anti-whatever? Is there that much difference between how men and women see the world?]
Sooner or later it must stop. The People will have to come together and …what? What issues will “The People” find to agree on that can heal this division? Are there values so universal that they will make us realize we have more in common than what is tearing us apart? And if we can’t find that common core that makes us Americans, what then? Chaos.
Major crises have done that before. The Depression and the war that followed it bred the greatest generation. And the Eisenhower years may have been bland, even boring, but there was no question about how Americans felt about their country and its values.
We are different today. We are in combat with our fellow Americans. Our values are at stake. And so is our future.
How long before we find the will to agree? How long can we keep this up until we do?