Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Three years ago, very few people even Donald Trump himself, envisioned that America would elect Trump to be their 45th President. To be sure there was an intensifying polarization in America which began during the Clinton Presidency, continued during presidency of George W. Bush and which increased during the Obama years. On at least one side of the divide, the final straw was the election of an African-American as president.
For many white Americans, Obama’s election was the decisive blow which pushed them to a presidential candidate who spoke the very words they had been uttering at their own dinner tables for years. Trump spoke their language and reflected their anger. It was with this support and this eventual electoral mandate with which Donald Trump has governed.
The destructive fight over the Kavanaugh nomination during the past three weeks was the most blatant manifestation of the partisan polarization in American politics. The extent of the damage that the judicial nominating process has done to America’s political culture only will become manifest after next month’s mid-term elections.
(There is no doubt that sexual abuse and harassment will no longer be tolerated. As a society, America has been dramatically moved. The numerous indictments of public figures; the growth of the #Me Too movement; the public disclosure of misogynist behavior; as well as the events disclosure in the Judiciary Committee Hearings have energized millions of Americans in all directions.)
Candidates and parties have always differed on substantive issues. Congressional leaders and Presidents battled vigorously over policy differences, but they still went out and played golf together. Today, Democrats as well as Republicans can barely say a civil word to each other. Legislation is not crafted or evolved; normal rules are disregarded; congressional courtesies are avoided; regular orders are abandoned; Senate “folkways” are history; and no one cares.
President Trump and many congressional leaders do not respect the institutions of Government. Members of Congress who have institutional memory—unlike the President who has none—disregard the customs. Politics in Washington is no longer about governing but only about winning. The path to victory no longer follows any norms.
Governing in America today no longer operates through conflict resolution and compromise. All the institutions of Government have become deeply polarized. America is an angry nation. Not since the era of the Civil War, has America experienced such deep-rooted pain as people throughout the country feel today—on all sides of the political spectrum.
It remains to be seen whether America will be able to pull itself out of this ugliness. The country requires a leader or leaders who will put statesmanship before self-interest and partisanship. The nation once again needs someone(s) who will be prepared to govern “…with malice toward none, with charity for all… [who can] bind up the nation’s wounds.” It is a daunting challenge.