New Year's Resolution: Stop Saying America Is So 'Divided'

las vegas, nevada november 18 former vice president mike pence speaks to guests at the republican jewish coalition annual leadership meeting on november 18, 2022 in las vegas, nevada the meeting comes on the heels of former president donald trump becoming the first candidate to declare his intention to seek the gop nomination in the 2024 presidential race photo by scott olsongetty images
Stop Saying America Is So 'Divided'Scott Olson - Getty Images

Something you hear a lot from both seasoned political pundits and casual observers who mostly try to stay out of the fray is that we're so divided. This is considered so obvious it needs no elaboration. The left and right no longer just disagree on how to solve the problems our society faces, they disagree on basic facts about the observable world. They don't just distrust one another, they consider the opposing party to be made up of enemies of America.

For a lot of people, this is really all you need to know about the state of American politics in 2022. It's usually accompanied by a lament that we need a new generation of political leaders who can rise above this division and find moderate, common-sense solutions to the problems we face. But the overarching problem is that we're all divided. Just ask the former vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, who trotted this line out in a Newsmax interview with Greta Van Susteren last week and followed it with a, dare I say, Joe Biden-ish riff about the essential unity of the American people. Granted, it took Pence a minute to assemble his rationale for hope:

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The two political extremes are pulling our country apart! We're so polarized. Who could forget when a mob of leftist radicals stormed the Capitol chanting, "Hang Mike Pence!" Another sad story of a nation divided, where one side's hate for the other caused—hang on, I'm hearing that it was a mob of people who supported Pence's running mate who were chanting that he should be lynched. He shared a presidential ticket with their hero, said all the right things for five years, and some still wanted him dead because he refused to unilaterally throw out the votes of millions of American citizens and install their guy as president for another term. He even played footsie with the election conspiracies up until the point of actually overthrowing the duly elected government of the United States—he drew the line there—but that wasn't enough. His side—one side—attacked the seat of the national legislature and was willing to destroy him if it meant holding onto power.

The national fiasco of January 6 was built on other delusions, beyond just the notion that the election was "stolen." The Steal that had to be Stopped was never really about specific claims (or evidence) of election fraud. The nation itself was being stolen away from its rightful heirs by an invading horde of undesirables, aided and abetted by the Democratic Party, who want to destroy the America we know and love (and also become Democratic voters?). The Trump administration did not just crack down at the border, though; they wanted to cut legal immigration in half. This wasn't about hating immigrants, you see: It was about fighting the Open Borders Democrats. Never mind that closing off the legal routes to come here is unlikely to lead to fewer people taking an illegal route. And never mind that Biden continued Trump's use of Title 42 at the border even after we agreed pretty much everywhere else in our society that the pandemic was in the rear-view. The Open Borders Democrat didn't open the border, but such details aren't important.

washington, dc january 06 vice president mike pence and speaker of the house nancy pelosi d ca preside over a joint session of congress on january 6, 2021 in washington, dc congress has reconvened to ratify president elect joe biden's 306 232 electoral college win over president donald trump, hours after a pro trump mob broke into the us capitol and disrupted proceedings photo by erin schaff poolgetty images
Pence returned to oversee the congressional session after a mob chanting for his death was beaten back from the Capitol.Erin Schaff - Getty Images

Joe Biden did sign bipartisan bills on infrastructure, re-shoring manufacturing jobs (and supply chains for semiconductors), and securing healthcare coverage for military veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. He fulfilled Trump's pledge to get us out of Afghanistan, though our exit from a war zone was nasty and deadly. (Many Beltway politicos were upset at the departure, though it was mostly outrage at America's humiliation.) He just signed an omnibus funding bill that contains a significant antitrust victory, part of a larger anti-monopoly push where there are allies across the aisle like Chuck Grassley. He signed a bill to cut prescription drug costs and provide the largest ever public-sector investment in American green energy. The Inflation Reduction Act will cut the deficit, though the name was a bit Orwellian: few think it will do much for inflation. It also wasn't bipartisan, though Republicans talk frequently these days about lowering drug prices and cutting the deficit. At least that bill had stuff in it that you wouldn't expect Republicans to like. Many also voted against the CHIPS Act and the infrastructure bill. Since the Trump era, they've talked a lot about re-shoring jobs and taking our supply chains out of China and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.

None of these fairly middle-of-the-road accomplishments for the Democratic president and his colleagues in Congress seem to factor into how the state of American politics is broadly assessed. The most extreme move the Democrats made was spending a bit too much on a pandemic relief bill in an attempt to learn their lessons from a Great Recession stimulus that was too small. That made inflation worse, but it is within the realm of normal politics: the liberals think the government should intervene more in our economy. It doesn't matter that the Democrats chose not to use the power granted to them by the American public to pass a bill mandating that your child attend a local drag queen story hour. That's what Republicans are saying about they want, and something-something our politics are polarized and divided. It doesn't matter that Title 42 was only supposed to end because the Biden administration lost a court case to the ACLU, a ruling that still hasn't taken effect. Open Borders! Divided!

washington, dc december 27 us president joe biden walks to speak to reporters as he and first lady jill biden leave the white house and walk to marine one on the south lawn on december 27, 2022 in washington, dc the bidens are spending the new years holiday in st croix, united states virgin islands photo by anna moneymakergetty images
It doesn’t seem to matter what Biden has actually done. He will always be One Side of our divided nation.Anna Moneymaker - Getty Images

This dynamic is readily apparent in other instances when Mike Pence has talked about our divided country. "My hope is that the Justice Department will think very carefully about next steps," he told CBS's Margaret Brennan regarding the decision on whether to charge Trump with a crime for taking a bunch of top-secret documents to his golf club. "This is a very divided time in the life of our nation. I think our nation needs to heal." And the only way to heal is to let Trump do whatever he wants without consequences. If he is charged with a crime like any other citizen would be for doing what he did, that would be divisive.

Elsewhere, Pence explained he wouldn't testify before the January 6 committee because "the partisan nature of the January 6 committee has been a disappointment to me," adding, "there was an opportunity to examine every aspect of what happened on January 6, and to do so more in the spirit of the 9/11 Commission, nonpartisan, non-political, and that was an opportunity lost." Well, it was almost lost when Kevin McCarthy pulled all members of his caucus out of the committee because Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of his picks, Jims Jordan and Banks, on the grounds that they were blatantly in the tank for the guy accused of organizing the event under examination. Luckily, there were still two Republicans left on the committee after McCarthy withdrew his troops. It's just that Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are no longer considered Republicans because they refused to support—or at least quietly accept—the party leader's attempt to stay in power in contravention of the expressed will of the American people.

Now they're on the other side in Our Divided Nation, the side which seems to be home to anyone who thinks doing a coup out of some weird cocktail of nativism and Christian nationalist fervor is bad. How can you look at this state of affairs and conclude that our problem is "both sides are getting more polarized"? Because the Squad wants single-payer healthcare and to abolish ICE, an agency created in March 2003? Because between 15 and 26 million people participated in racial justice protests in 2020 and, concurrently, some people rioted and some leftists made excuses for it? Is it because most Democrats think people don't need to carry guns around in public? (Not to worry on that last one: The majority that conservatives engineered on the Supreme Court through unprecedented scorched-earth machinations has outlined the new constitutional principle of a handgun in every waistband.) Surely it ought to matter at some point that the people in government who represent one side are the ones doing nearly all the crazy.

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