In the era of Donald Trump and the Evangelical Republicans, we keep hearing that candidates and their voters have become divided into two distinctive camps. Hatred of the other camp has become that divide. The empty Supreme Court seat left vacant first by Justice Scalia and then by Justice Kennedy have become the pinnacle battleground for the two camps. How did we get here?
Having no credentials to discuss the history of this impasse, I still have thought long and hard about how we have turned our backs on reaching across the aisle to become two closed, armed camps. Even our closed arm posture signals how closed off to political compromise we have become.
When did we become so closed off from each other politically and ideologically?
I believe it began with the inauguration of our first non-white, African American president, Barack Husein Obama. Ironically, the birth of the impasse was born during the first period in our U.S. history when equality had shown itself in all its glory.
In 1863, as our nation approached its third year of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
With President Obama’s election and 2009 inauguration, it seemed that we the people had finally ripped up one of our last and most brutal forms of hatred, and contempt for a group of people, most of whom arrived in the U.S. in chains. We had our first African American president.
As President Obama began to serve his first four years, he went to work trying to repair the broken economy that coincided with the 2008 stock market collapse which followed in the wake of 2007 housing market crash. The Tea Party movement reared its ugly head immediately after Obama’s 2009 announcement of his plans to give financial aid to bankrupt homeowners.
A major force behind the movement was a group called the Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group founded by businessman and political activist David H. Koch of the infamous Koch brothers.
Following the announcement of the financial bailout of bankrupt homeowners, on February 19, 2009, CNBC reporter Rick Santelli, while reporting from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, called for a “tea party,” a reference to the 1773 rebellious action taken in Boston, MA. On December 16, 1773, angry colonists acted out the protest directed at Colonial Britain for imposing “taxation without representation.” The rebels dumped 342 chests of British tea into the harbor.
The 2009 Santelli call to action inspired over fifty conservative activists to unite against Obama’s agenda as they scheduled a series of protests, including the 2009 Taxpayer March on Washington. This union of conservative and libertarian activists encouraged sympathizers and supporters to carry forth the protests turning the ultra-right sentiment into a movement that began to impact and infiltrate the internal politics of the Republican Party. Although the Tea Party isn’t a separate or independent party, members of the Tea Party Caucus vote like a significantly farther right party than do the established members of the GOP. Today those Tea Party politicians are referred to as the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives.
That ultra conservative sentiment and ultra-right voting tendency came full force into view after the 2010 mid-term election when the Republicans beat out the Democrats across the nation and took over the majority vote in the House. An interesting admonition of this election was the deplorable turnout of registered Democratic Party voters.
Statistics demonstrate that Democrats don’t vote as religiously as do Republicans, especially during non-presidential elections, i.e., mid-term elections. Where the voter turnout during the 2008 General election hit a 40-year high, largely due to the overwhelming popularity of Barack Obama, the turnout during the 2010 Midterm election suffered dramatically. In 2008, 57.1% of the voting-age population cast ballots; but, two years later, the cast votes dropped to only 36.9% of the voter population. Then a rebound in voter turnout occurred in 2012 when Obama ran for his second term. The turn out for President Obama during both the 2008 and 2012 general elections was due largely to Obama’s campaign success in expanding the electorate through successful inspiration to turn out both new voters and black voters. Again, however, during the 2014 mid-term elections, voter turnout dropped dramatically resulting in the lowest turnout in seventy years. Generally, Republican turnout during midterms is three percent higher than the Democrat turnout. Following that pattern, the Democratic Party lost the Senate to the GOP in 2014.
During the Obama era, something more subtle was in the works. There was resentment among many white groups within the population. That racial divide was always there. However, it again became evident during the Obama presidency, and it began almost immediately. Several incidents prove as definitive evidence of the still vibrant racial divide.
For example, that divide became evident the moment President Obama declared in July 2009 that a white police officer acted “stupidly.” The police officer answered a call to investigate a possible break-in at the home of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
It seems that, upon arriving home from a trip to China, Gates found a jammed front door. Gates and his driver began to push the door in, leading a neighbor to call the police to report a break-in. Sparked by failed communication and acute misunderstanding on the part of both parties, the arrest was the result. That arrest created a national discussion around racial profiling which is still a current topic whenever there is a white police officer involved in an incident with a black adult male where the black male winds up killed. Later it was determined that the incident was a mixture of cause and effect that was fueled by the mix of race (white officer and black “offender”), class (professor and police officer), and displaced respect on both parts as well as the element of police authority. The professor who felt he was being mistreated based on his race soon realized he was not in control of the situation. Instead, due to his role of authority, the police officer was in control.
Of course, the racial issue was at the center of a secret meeting, headed up by Mitch McConnell. During that meeting, McConnell and the other GOP members swore they would do all they could to prevent the reelection of Obama. After all, there was a subtle shiver running through much of the white population in the U.S. The shiver was the utter shock that a black man was now sitting in the White House.
Probably the most notorious example of GOP obstruction came during Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland as the successor of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans refused even to allow the interviewing of Garland, leaving the seat vacant for the duration of Obama’s presidency, March 16, 2016, through January 3, 2017. One of the major excuses used by McConnell was that 2016 represented an election year which meant a lame-duck president shouldn’t have the opportunity to seat a new Supreme Court Justice. Never mind that in 2018, also an election year, the man who sits in the White House and who is under investigation for multiple alleged offensives has been allowed to nominate a justice for the seat vacated by retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Such is the power of the majority party who, through the apathy of Democratic Party voters who chose to sit out the 2014 mid-term elections thus giving the majority to the GOP. It is that same party of course which remained as the majority after the 2016 election of the outrageous phenomenon called Donald Trump.
Speaking of the Donald, it was he who stirred up the birther issue in which President Obama’s origin became questionable. Trump is a notorious conspiracy theory believer. Given his propensity toward conspiracy theories, it is not a coincidence that during Obama’s presidency, he was plagued by other trumped up conspiracy theories such as the allegations that he secretly practices Islam. After all his middle name is Hussein. How much proof is needed to prove his real religion?
There were also other minor conspiracy theories such as the belief among some that Obama was the antichrist of Christian eschatology which portends the end of times. All those conspiracy theories were believed not only by uneducated people, but they were completely embraced by educated people as well. Especially true was the birther issue which laid claim that President Obama was not born in Hawaii, but instead his mother gave birth to him while living in Kenya and that his birth certificate was a fake.
The biggest irony of all was the election of Mr. Birther himself, Donald J. Trump. During the first two years of Trump’s presidency, he has been responsible for fueling the fire of divide. He is notorious for holding rallies even when they are unnecessary. Those rallies, however, give the ultimate producer of TV the opportunity to keep his base of 30-some-percent voters riled up. Ironically, many of those voters voted for Obama twice. However, during the last few decades, those voters have felt ignored and left behind. Many of them come from industries that are fast becoming obsolete. Where presidential candidate Hillary Clinton promised to retrain those workers needing to be retrained, Trump has spent his first two years bringing back or fortifying the obsolete industries that employed these voters.
Realistically though, if a person thinks about the events of the last ten years, and given all the consternation surrounding the Obama administration, it was predictable that a female president could never follow the first black president. That is the case especially given that the opposing candidate is the conspiracy theorist himself, Donald J. Trump.
Trump has also spent his first two years playing out his insane jealousy toward Barack Obama as he deliberately undoes as many advancements Obama accomplished during his tenure. Trump is a consummate narcissist who spends his time carping and disparaging anyone who criticizes him. He spends his time either watching TV and tweeting subjecting all of us to his lack of knowledge, refusal to learn and, in general, chaotic craziness. His only accomplishment is the fear he has instilled in the GOP members of his party so that, a Representative or Senator has only two choices, continue to work toward reelection or quit as in retire. Even the older, more conventional GOP members run scared of Trump’s threats to primary them. Lindsey Graham is one of those who tow the Trump line to keep his job. Until we can be rid of Trump and have a more stable, sensible career politician in the White House, we are doomed to continue to live as a divided people.
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(Note: Here is an interesting piece of modern history. Until February 7, 2013, the state of Mississippi had never submitted the required documentation to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, meaning it never officially had abolished slavery. The amendment was adopted in December 1865 after the necessary three-fourths of the then 36 states voted in favor of ratification. (https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/02/mississippi-officially-abolishes-slavery-ratifies-13th-amendment/)