Stop blaming Trump and Obama for driving us apart. Divisiveness in America is our own fault. It’s something we choose even though few benefit from setting us against each other. This is not the special province of Democrats. It’s not something created by Republicans or their fringe. Divisiveness in America is a phenomenon created by conflict politics because hatred and anger are much more efficient vehicles for change than unity.
Divisiveness in America: yes, it’s our fault
Our love of a sport with actors who, like those in Hollywood, relish the limelight and our adoration has placed divisiveness in America front and center again. That we shower so much respect on professional athletes is almost as shameful as the displays of the NFL players whose disrespect is based on liberal beliefs about justice that are spread by politics.
This isn’t just about football. Conflict politics means that anything and everything that stirs up divisiveness is fair game. Consider just a few of the things we fight over: immigrant vs. American, rich vs. poor, Christian vs. Muslim, gay vs. straight, minority vs. white, and the root of it all, Democrat vs. Republican.
How many of these examples are exploited by politics? Every single one.
Divisiveness preys on ignorance
Messages like this from Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) create division:
They are taking a knee to protest police officers who kill unarmed African Americans – men and women, adults and children, parents and grandparents – with impunity. They are taking a knee to protest a justice system that says that being Black is enough reason for a police officer to fear for his or her life.1
Do these comments convey the truth? The point is to make us angry. This is where divisiveness in American comes from. It has nothing to do with fixing things, righting wrongs, or mending fences.
How often do police officers kill African American children with impunity? It probably doesn’t happen as often as Washington’s politically ambitious left would have us believe. I doubt that most police officers start their day looking for kids to kill. On some level we have to trust society enough to know, deep down, that this is not something we tolerate on a mass scale.
So why does spreading these kinds of “facts” drive us apart? Because we choose to believe them.
New FBI crime figures: things are better and worse
Division is more politically valuable than the truth. When the truth is inconvenient we ignore it like we did last year with hate crime statistics. That doesn’t mean facts don’t exist to compare to what we believe.
Newly released FBI crime figures for 2016 argue against what we’ve been hearing. Officer-involved justifiable homicides were fewer in 2016 than 2013, 2014, or 2015.2 Where an offender’s race was known, more murders were committed by black or African Americans (6,095) than whites (5,004),3 even though black Americans are only an estimated 13.3% of our population.4
Ironically, given the anger over policing African American communities, the vast majority of arrests were of whites (69.6%). Blacks or African Americans only made up 26.9% of the total.5
What do these numbers mean?
They don’t mean anything without more information, interpretation, interpolation, and more facts that we don’t have. The far right could charge an epidemic of African American killing. The far left could assert an upsurge in coerced murder confessions. There isn’t a politician born who has the time or the resources to understand what is going on with crimes committed by and against race. That’s what makes it so easy to spur divisiveness in American. A few events are a trend. News reports become a nationwide epidemic.
That’s how politics works and what politicians do. The question is what we choose to believe. When we choose division over trusting the basic sanctity of our people, laws, and institutions even with their flaws, then divisiveness becomes our fault.
UPDATE October 1, 2017: Seeds of divisiveness from San Juan
San Juan, Puerto Rico’s outspoken mayor used the word “genocide” while she vented her dissatisfaction with a very difficult relief effort. The implications of dropping that particular word as part of her tirade against President Trump are pretty obvious. Give it a day or so and watch what Trump’s opposition does with it.
The president is taking lots of heat for responding to Mayor Cruz’s outbursts. He should point out that this is not the first hurricane to devastate a Caribbean island, albeit a broke territory that will be bailed out by bankruptcy. His aggravated response as reported by the Hill6 has a lot more validity than we will ever admit.
UPDATE May 6, 2018: Democratic divisiveness? Impeachment will dominate 2018
While Hillary Clinton finds new ways to deconstruct her election loss, House members are still fighting over the Clinton Foundation. Democrats call their accusations that Trump colluded with Russia an attack on democracy. The party has successfully turned unproven allegations into fact even though no one has been able to spell out just how the election was impacted.
Last week the shoe was on the other foot. Republican lawmaker Bob Goodlatte called for an investigation of possible Justice Department intervention in an FBI investigation of the Clinton Foundation after a redacted DOJ Inspector General’s misconduct report called Director Andrew McCabe’s actions into question.
Goodlatte wrote to AG Jeff Sessions:
Once again, according to the IG report, we see a top official – Mr. McCabe – behaving in a manner unworthy of a public servant and, in particular, an FBI agent. However, we have also learned that there may have been undue pressure and influence asserted by the Department – and possibly even higher levels of the U.S. government during the Obama Administration – to ensure that a validly predicated investigation of the Clinton Foundation was terminated.7
The Democratic retort was swift and predictable. House Judiciary Committee member Jerrold Nadler responded:
There is no evidence of any wrongdoing here—just snippets from a public report and fact-free speculation about a Benghazi-style ‘stand down’ order at DOJ.8
Nadler argues we should protect tax dollars from Republicans who want to divert attention from the real target:
They would rather spend taxpayer dollars trying to convince the public not to believe Mr. Comey and that President Trump is blameless.9
When it comes to spending taxpayer dollars on a damaging, divisive impeachment process Democrats don’t have a problem. 16 party members signed on to Rep. Steve Cohen’s impeachment resolution which used the words “Russia” or “Russian” 27 times over 25 very short pages.
H. Res. 621 notes that:
On March 30, 2017, Donald J. Trump called FBI Director James Comey and said the Russia investigation was, ‘‘a cloud,’’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.10
Over one year later that divisive cloud still hangs over the country. The central figure in a hush money scandal that adds fuel to the fire made a Saturday Night Live appearance last night, which trivializes Democratic Party allegations and lends credence to conservative arguments that the media is lined up against this president.
With midterms approaching Democrats will escalate threats of impeachment while they throw stones from a glass house. Somehow they still feel justified in accusing this president of being the divisive one while they use every trick in the book to convince us they are on the side of right.
UPDATE September 10, 2018: Obama begins national divisiveness tour
Is it ethical to manipulate divisiveness to cure national division?
Barack Obama is back in the headlines after embarking on a divisiveness speaking tour that started at the University of Illinois last week. He received considerable credit for slamming the Trump administration, which raises a question about the tactics he is using to combat divisiveness that seems more like a smokescreen for a Democrats-only playing field.
Before the November 2016 election crushed his party’s plans, Obama’s White House condemned the Republican Party and called for Democratic support at the polls:
If that includes a clear, unambiguous, unmistakable repudiation of the divisive rhetoric and cynical tactics that are used by Republicans, that would be a welcome outcome as well.11
First Lady Michelle Obama joined in:
And while this may feel like a volatile time — while we may be rightfully horrified by the divisive rhetoric we’re hearing in our public conversation, while we may be broken-hearted that we’re still dealing with the issues of poverty, and mass incarceration, and gun violence — it is remarkable progress that these issues are seeing the light of day at all.12
When it comes to Donald Trump and winning back the House of Representatives nothing is off limits including divisive rhetoric that manipulates the divisions the former president’s tattered legacy dumped on the nation. His goal is not to bring the nation together. It’s to win an election. Obama comes from Democratic machine state Illinois, so he knows how to play the game.
UPDATE January 5, 2019: what does “bipartisan” mean to Pelosi?
During her remarks after a successful bid to be House speaker again Nancy Pelosi spoke of a “new dawn.”13 We heard the trite, largely positive remarks that we expect before the fight starts and all hell breaks loose. The new speaker used the word “bipartisan” seven times when she addressed Republican Kevin McCarthy:
Thank you very much, Leader McCarthy. I look forward to working with you in a bipartisan way for the good of our country, respecting our constituents, every one of you, I respect you and the constituents who sent each and every one of us here and deserve for us to find our common ground, and we must try to do that: stand our ground when we can’t, but always extend a hand of friendship.14*
Pelosi didn’t say whether “each of us” included Republicans or whether those constituents Democrats will respect include America’s deplorables, but this remark from Alabama Republican Bradley Byrne gives us a hint where “bipartisan” is headed:
We have already seen this past week the extent House Democrats will go to in undermining our President, with one going as far as to use profanity at an event in describing her efforts to impeach President Trump.15
Speaker criticizes 312,000 new jobs
As part of her positive, bipartisan outlook Pelosi criticized a booming December jobs report:
The December jobs statement contains some positive news, yet these gains threaten to slip away because of the Trump Shutdown.16
The speaker knows full well that the shutdown will end and federal employees will be taken care of, but threatening the nation with a loss of 800,000 jobs because of Trump is good Democratic politics.
After her comment on the jobs report she told us where she really stands on bipartisanship:
In stark contrast to the Republicans, the Democratic Congress will be For The People: lowering health costs and prescription drug costs, increasing paychecks by rebuilding in America with green, modern infrastructure and cleaning up corruption to make Washington work For The People.17
Americans chose Pelosi and her party. That wasn’t a vote for unity. We have already been warned what their plans are.
Let’s see how long it takes the “I” word to spill from her lips.
UPDATE April 14, 2019: an attack of Democratic amnesia
“Hate and division” is a very popular phrase among Democrats, as if they believe that by repeating it over and over and over enough Americans will believe that Trump is hateful and divisive to back their arrogant liberal extremism.
We’ve all heard the phrase “blinded by hate.” Is that the problem?
Just yesterday we got this bit of divisiveness from the Congressional Black Caucus. They threw in “reckless”18 and “despicable” for dramatic effect:
His [President Trump’s] attacks on Representative Omar, as well as those from right wing media and commentators, not only spew hate and division, they are putting the life of a member of Congress in danger. These attacks are despicable and must stop so that our nation can focus on the real issues that need to be addressed to ensure our national security.19
Is urging Americans to go after Trump administration officials in public hateful and divisive? Apparently not, or at least not last summer when the incitement came from prominent caucus member Maxine Waters.
The take home message is that whether something is hateful and divisive depends on who says it. If it comes from Trump or anyone associated with the Republican Party it meets the definition of hateful, divisive discourse.
If it comes from Democrats? You get the idea.
1. “Statement from CBC Chairman on Trump, Kaepernick and the NFL.” Congressional Black Caucus. September 25, 2017. https://cbc.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=732, retrieved September 26, 2017.
2. “2016 Crime in the United States. Justifiable Homicide by Weapon, Law Enforcement, 2012-2016.” FBI. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-5.xls, retrieved September 26, 2017.
3. “2016 Crime in the United States: Expanded Homicide Data Table 2.” FBI. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-2.xls, retrieved September 27, 2017.
4. “United States Census Bureau.” QuickFacts. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/RHI725216, retrieved September 27, 2017.
5. “2016 Crime in the United States. Arrests.” FBI https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/table-21, retrieved September 26, 7, 2017.
6. Carter, Brandon. “Trump slams Puerto Rico: ‘They want everything to be done for them.’” The Hill. September 30, 2017. http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/353216-trump-criticizes-san-juan-mayors-poor-leadership-during-puerto-rico, retrieved October 1, 2017.
7. “Goodlatte: Allegations of Political Pressure to Shutter Clinton Foundation Probe Must Be Investigated.” House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. May 1, 2018. https://judiciary.house.gov/press-release/goodlatte-allegations-of-political-pressure-to-shutter-clinton-foundation-probe-must-be-investigated/, retrieved May 6, 2018.
8. “Nadler Statement on Goodlatte’s Proposed Investigations of Clinton Foundation Prove and Comey Memos.” U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary. Democrats. May 1, 2018. https://democrats-judiciary.house.gov/news/press-releases/nadler-statement-goodlatte-s-proposed-investigations-clinton-foundation-probe, retrieved May 6, 2018.
10. “H.Res.621 – Impeaching Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, of high crimes and misdemeanors.” https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-resolution/621/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22impeachment%22%5D%7D&r=3, retrieved May 6, 2018.
11. “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/21/2016.” The White House. President Barack Obama. October 21, 2016. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/10/21/press-briefing-press-secretary-josh-earnest-10212016, retrieved September 10, 2018.
12. “Remarks by the First Lady at the Jackson State University Commencement.” The White House. Office of the First Lady. April 23, 2016. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/04/23/remarks-first-lady-jackson-state-university-commencement, retrieved September 10, 2018.
13. “Pelosi Remarks Upon Accepting the Gavel as Speaker of the House.” Speaker.gov January 3, 2019. https://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/1319/, retrieved January 24, 2019.
15. “Through the Looking Glass: What’s Ahead in 2019.” Bradley Byrne. January 6, [sic] 2019. https://byrne.house.gov/media-center/columns/through-the-looking-glass-what-s-ahead-in-2019, retrieved January 5, 2019.
16. “Pelosi Statement on December Jobs Report.” Nancy Pelosi. January 4, 2019. https://pelosi.house.gov/news/press-releases/pelosi-statement-on-december-jobs-report-7, retrieved January 5, 2019.
18. “The Black Caucus Responds to President Trump’s Reckless Attack on Rep. Ilhan Omar.” Congressional Black Caucus. April 13, 2019. https://cbc.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=2024, retrieved April 14, 2019.
*Link text and link updated January 24, 2019 to accommodate new URL on Pelosi.house.gov website.