The United States of Disunion?
President Joe Biden closed his State of the Union address on March 1 by stating:
So, on this night, on our 245th year as a nation, I have come to report on the state of the nation — the state of the union. And my report is this: the state of the union is strong because you, the American people, are strong. We are stronger today than we were a year ago. And we’ll be stronger a year from now than we are today.
This is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time. And we will, as one people. One America. The United States of America. God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you. Go get ’em.
President Biden received a bipartisan standing ovation at the end of those remarks. The question becomes: will we citizens and politicians stand with him “as one people, one America,” in the days and months ahead, to attest to the validity of his words.
The odds against that happening are high because unfortunately today we are living in the United States of Disunion. There is some news, however, based upon the reaction to Biden’s address, that could make those odds a little bit better.
More than 38 million people viewed Biden’s address. On March 2, Caroline Vakil reported in The Hill that in a CBS News/ You Gov poll “78 percent of surveyed Americans who watched Biden’s address approved of his remarks…” and a CNN poll conducted by SSRS showed that “71 percent — had a positive reaction to it.”
Those are good results. But there is some counterbalancing information. While 38 million viewers might seem like a lot, that number is quite low compared to the 45.6 viewers who watched Trump’s first State of the Union address in 2018.
More importantly, as Jean Yi opined in her fivethirtyeight.com piece, “…The State of the Union is more symbolic than anything else.” She goes on to note, “The audience for a president’s State of the Union is usually skewed toward the president’s party…”
That appears to be true again in 2021 — even though, as the Associated Press reported, “Fox News Channel averaged the biggest audience for the address, an estimated 7.2 million.” Pew Research has found that Fox News is seen as the most trusted source of news by two-thirds of Republicans and not ranked highly at all by Democrats. So it is probable that a large percentage of the 31 million who watched on other networks and channels were Democrats.
Then there is the most important factor, which is that the State of the Union address is not thought of as “must watch” TV by the majority of adult Americans. In 2020, the voting age population of the U.S. was close to 260 million. If all of those 38 million viewers on March 1 were of voting age, this means that only around 14.6% of Americans were tuned in to President Biden.
Therefore, no matter the quality of the President’s message — and the general consensus of the media, pundits and viewing public is that is was quite good — it was not seen or heard by the majority of Americans and thus could not move the needle much nationally. That’s because our island states of America, as we have labeled them in earlier blogs, continue to move further and further apart. In this 21st century, the citizens in these United States of Disunion have moved physically, mentally, and morally.
On February 17, Rhodes Cook, Senior Columnist for Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball posted a blog stating in the title that “The Big Sort” continues. In his blog, Rhodes points out that the number of “super landslide” counties (where a presidential candidate wins 80% or more of the popular vote) grew from less than 200 out of 3100 or so counties in 2004 to nearly 700 counties in 2020. Donald Trump won “fully 95%” of those 700 counties that were almost entirely rural.
Cook borrows the term “The Big Sort” from Bill Bishop’s book of that title, published in 2008, which advanced the thesis that “Americans [are] clustering into communities of like-minded folk.” Cook asserts “That clustering, at least at the political level, has only increased since then.” John Burnett draws and expands upon Cook’s research, writing in his article for NPR, that “America is growing geographically polarized — red zip codes are getting redder and blue zip codes are getting bluer. People appear to be sorting.”
We agree with Cook, Bishop, and Burnett, the degree of political polarization has intensified. People are not only sorting in terms of where they live physically. They are also sealing — sealing themselves off from hearing or considering any views that differ from their own.
As we have commented in past blogs, this segregation has turned us into enemies of each other and infected our American mind and memory. We have examined this condition in extensive detail in those and other blogs. There is no need to do so here.
There is a need, however, to examine briefly what is occurring within a segment of the U.S. morally. This can be accomplished by looking at how some in that segment have reacted to Russia’s brazen and brutal invasion of the Ukraine as the frame of reference for that examination.
Putin attempted to justify his unprovoked and unwarranted attack on the Ukrainian state and people as a necessary move to “de-nazify” and eliminate the “neo-Nazis” who were allegedly committing atrocious crimes against Russians in the Ukraine.
He then proceeded, without any evidence supporting his claims, to have Russia wage an all-out war on the Ukraine. And, in the irony of ironies, to have Russia employ Nazi-like tactics to create a holocaust for the people of the Ukraine.
Putin’s and Russia’s actions have prompted significant condemnations and retaliatory responses world-wide and here in the U.S. There is a small group in the United States, though, whose reactions have been jaundiced at best and supportive of the invaders at worst.
They include: former President Donald Trump, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ).
- In an interview on the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show on February 22, after Putin had declared two Eastern regions of the Ukraine independent states and moved Russian troops to them, Donald Trump stated that he had seen this on TV and said “This is genius.” During that interview, he also said he knew Putin well and he was “very savvy.”
- Mike Pompeo’s comments about Putin before the invasion were also quite positive. As reported in the Washington Post, Pompeo said “I have enormous respect for him” on a February 18 call with the Center for the National Interest. And he told Fox News: “He’s a very talented statesman. He has lots of gifts.”
- Marjorie Taylor Greene participated in person, and Paul Gosar participated by video, in the American First Political Action Conference convened by white supremacist Nick Fuentes, who has expressed strong anti-Semitic views. Fuentes has also praised Putin and Adolf Hitler in the past. In their New York Times article on this conference, Jonathan Weisman and Annie Karni state, “The crowd at the conference — which was running at the fringes of the larger Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC — could be heard on videos chanting, ‘Putin. Putin.’”
As the Russian invasion has proceeded, Trump and Pompeo have walked back and/or declined to comment on their earlier statements. In an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business on March 2, Trump called the invasion a “holocaust”. And, as Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill, “Trump has repeatedly put out statements saying the conflict would never have happened if he was still president.”
Here’s what did happen when Trump was President. As his first impeachment trial highlighted, the former president, “… withheld nearly $400 million in defense aid Congress approved for Ukraine in an effort to coerce (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky to investigate the business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter.” And as Kara Voght of Rolling Stone reminds us, in a July 2019 “perfect” phone call, Trump told Zelensky, “I would like you to do us a favor though.” The favor was to “look into” the Bidens’ dealings with Ukraine.
Another thing that happened when Trump was President was the 2017 Unite the Right rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, VA, which resulted in much violence and the killing of an activist counter-protester. In his initial comments on that incident, Trump infamously proclaimed, “You also had some very fine people on both sides.”
Trump walked that comment back — but not completely — almost immediately after he said it. And he tried to do so many more times during his presidency, but never to the satisfaction of many in the media and the public.
Trump — and those who support Putin and take actions that threaten the electoral process and the very essence of our American democracy — are walking on morally shaky ground. What they are doing may not be immoral but it is definitely amoral.
No matter how it is defined, their lack of a moral compass — in combination with the debilitating factors cited herein and others — has created the United States of Disunion. This condition increasingly makes the potential for the United States to break apart into its island states more and more possible.
This is a sobering reality. But if that reality is recognized and acknowledged, it can then be dealt with.
During President Biden’s State of the Union address, there was a glimmer of hope that that this recognition may be starting to occur. There was not only a standing ovation at the end of Biden’s address. There were also several instances throughout his speech when most Democrats and Republicans stood and clapped together. Indeed, as Michael Shearer notes in his New York Times piece, “The largest standing ovation came when he forcefully rejected the demands from some liberal Democrats to ‘defund the police.”
Another glimmer comes from Republicans such as Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney in the Senate, who have spoken out in a bipartisan manner on issues such as January 6, white nationalism, and antisemitism. And Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, has spoken out against the extremist behavior of Representatives Greene and Gosar and their participation in the “America First” white separatist conference.
A glimmer is a “faint, gentle, unsteady light.” The United States of America was founded on a glimmer.
Through the hard work, determination, and perseverance through its 245 years of existence, the citizens of this nation have converted that glimmer into the bright light and beacon for democracy. It is once more time to see the light and seize the moment by renewing our commitment to this country and each other.
If we do that, when President Biden gives his next State of the Union address in approximately one year, he will be able to state unequivocally that “we are stronger at that time “as one people, one America” than we were on March 1, 2022.
We will not have made our union perfect, but we will have made it better. We will be striving, as patriotic Americans have through the centuries and decades, to create a more perfect union. That is our right and our responsibility.