Rarely have Americans been so divided on what their country stands for as on the 246th anniversary of independence.
As red, white and blue fireworks burst in air on Monday night, politics may not be at the forefront of most people’s minds.
Yet a fractious partisan age is undeniably penetrating everyone’s lives.
If, as Abraham Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand, the years to come beckon even more national discombobulation. The unity for which President Joe Biden pleaded in his inaugural address seems more elusive than ever.
US democracy is still fighting for its survival, as the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol reveals ever more frightening details of Donald Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election. The ex-President is, meanwhile, impatient to launch a 2024 campaign rooted in his election fraud lies that would highlight his increasingly autocratic tendencies.
In another example of startling political disruption, an activist Supreme Court, protected behind high metal fences in its marbled Washington chambers, just stripped away the constitutional right of millions of women to have an abortion. The decision validates a half-century campaign by conservative activists, many of whom have sincere moral objections against abortion, which they equate with the murder of an unborn child.
But the Supreme Court’s decision and the emerging patchwork system of abortion restrictions across the US have been met with outrage in other parts of America. On Sunday, South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, a potential Republican presidential candidate, defended her state’s abortion ban on CNN’s “State of the Union” when asked whether a 10-year-old girl who was raped should be forced to give birth, or to explain how her state will care for women deprived of the right to end a pregnancy. Her evasions encapsulated how many supporters of abortion rights see hypocrisy and inhumanity among some of those who profess to care for life – and the irreconcilable divide on this issue in the country.
Given the political discord boiling way beneath the surface of Monday’s national celebrations, it’s hardly surprising that a staggering 85% of US adults in an Associated Press-NORC poll released last week said things in the country are headed in the wrong direction. The survey formalized what is obvious: for all its advantages, abundant resources, comparative prosperity and history of working to perfect its democracy, the United States is not a country at ease with itself right now. The cliché that America’s best days are ahead is becoming harder to believe.
More reasons for gloom
Social tensions are being exacerbated by economic pressure.
The war in Ukraine is making food bills more expensive and spiked gasoline to record prices. Biden’s struggling presidency appears out of ideas as to how to help after potentially worsening the situation by pumping hundreds of millions of dollars of spending into the economy.
Gun crime in cities is recalling a more violent past and every Monday brings a grim accounting of the weekend’s mass shootings. In the latest tragic outburst of violence, at least six people were killed and two dozen were injured at a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park on Monday. The exact circumstances of the incident were not immediately clear Monday afternoon as authorities launched a search for the perpetrator.
The sense of a country politically on edge is being exacerbated by the shadow of Trump’s violent coup attempt.
A flurry of restrictions on voting in many conservative-led states and the GOP’s refusal to renew voting rights legislation harken back to a poisoned era of racial repression. Liberals who once dreamed of a new Franklin Roosevelt are dissatisfied with the results of their narrow monopoly on political power in Biden’s Washington. But their radicalism also risks alienating the crucial middle ground of voters who ought to be up for grabs as the GOP dives right.
Incredibly, the country is struggling to make enough infant formula to feed its babies – and is having to fly in emergency supplies from abroad – a metaphor if there ever was one for a time when things just don’t seem to be going very well.
And in some regions, the spectacles that bring Americans of all persuasions side by side – the July Fourth fireworks shows – are being dampened by bans imposed because the land is tinderbox dry because of global warming, another threat that defies a political consensus for action.
A deeply divided nation
Almost every day, there’s a controversy or political fight that underscores the antagonism between more moderate, diverse and socially tolerant American cities and suburbs and the conservatism of rural America.
Many leaders on both sides of the aisle accentuate differences for political gain, only adding to the sense of anger coursing through the country. Elected leaders who seek to bring those with divergent views together are an endangered species.
Increasingly, for those who think about politics, each side of the divide sees the other as an existentialist threat to their idea of America – a schism of perception especially demonstrated in recent weeks by the fight between supporters and opponents of abortion rights.
On the right, disillusionment with government itself – which fueled Trump’s rise and is being exacerbated by his election fraud lies – is a driving force in a Republican Party that is giving up on democracy.
On the left, more and more people see a Supreme Court that is openly flouting majority opinion as illegitimate. The high court was once seen as above the partisan flames. But even its justices have been caught up in a tide of fury, with sniping more characteristic of social media than Supreme Court opinions. During oral arguments before last month’s landmark overturning of Roe v. Wade, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wondered whether the court could “survive the stench” of stripping away abortion rights. In his majority opinion that did just that, Justice Samuel Alito relished dismissing the reasoning behind Roe as “egregiously wrong.”