Donald Trump: Symptom of America’s spiritual malaise

Armstrong Williams | 11/2/2017, 2:24 p.m.
Many people who find the president’s behavior and tenor at times divisive and confronting lament that he is “dividing” the ...
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 over gay marriage, gender-specific public facilities or 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 percent responded that they approved. Although this number 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 percent of GOP voters who responded thought Trump was leading the country in the right direction.

This difference points to a serious fracture, not across the political divide, but within the GOP itself. Although Trump does lead the party, almost a third of the Republicans find themselves at odds with the president. He has 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 and deeply troubled 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. 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 whom 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 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.