The election of Donald Trump—and his presidency thus far—did not create the social and political divide tearing America apart. The forces aligned on the right and the left were already doing that long before Trump or Barack Obama or George W. Bush entered the political arena. But the conflict that has erupted since Trump’s victory has exposed the chasm that divides us more dramatically than any event in the last 150 years.
Americans hardly think any more about the motto that adorns our currency: “E Pluribus Unum”—an example of the dreams of national unity—“From many, one.” Today those dreams have all but vanished. And we seldom hear about the culture war that dominated headlines a few years ago. Apparently, we’re past that point now. The national motto, “In God We Trust,” which appears not only on our currency but on courthouse walls and monuments of all kinds, has become a source of controversy.
We’re engaged in a battle over fundamental beliefs and moral convictions, and the result of this decades-long struggle is a dangerous polarization of society between political extremes. There is very little middle ground. In every conceivable way, we are a nation divided.
The struggle is far from over, of course, and in my book, “Trump Aftershock,” we see that evangelicals felt that Trump’s election brought a burst of enthusiasm for conservative principles and ideals. Still, traditional values and the landmarks of Western civilization are taking a beating. The monuments of our collective history are being toppled and hauled away, while defenders of established institutions and traditions are labeled as bigots, racists, homophobes and worse. Under the tyranny of political correctness, freedom of speech is virtually impossible, religious freedom is threatened, and everyday conversations can be risky and sometimes even lethal.
For centuries, men and women from every continent, every race and every socioeconomic background came to this country to escape classification, but modern liberalism has managed to turn the debate back to race, class, gender and group identity. As a result, America is becoming fragmented into a collection of warring camps. Dangerous and antisocial behaviors are accepted and even praised by the liberal media. Those who cry loudest about hate and intolerance are often the most hateful and intolerant, using language as a weapon of war and hacking away at the few remaining constructs of social order.
A 2017 survey from the American Culture and Faith Institute (ACFI) offers an informative look at the depth of the division. The findings were that some Americans are afraid of speaking openly about their love of country or discussing their political views in public. Wearing a ball cap that makes a political statement, such as “Make America Great Again,” can start a riot. Bumper stickers have become an open invitation for vandalism. Some companies are suddenly at the center of controversy because of the social policies and values to which they subscribe. Even the National Football League has made itself a punching bag for both the Right and the Left.
The results suggest that we are more divided than ever—and neither the Left nor the Right is content to cede patriotism to the other. While most Americans believe the country is becoming less patriotic, they tend to believe other people are the problem: they’re fine, they say, but their neighbors are unpatriotic.
Almost half of respondents (46 percent) said that it would be completely accurate to describe themselves as “proud to be an American.” Overall, “freedom of speech” proved to be the most meaningful indicator of the level of patriotism among respondents, with nearly nine out of ten adults (87 percent) saying it was very meaningful to them personally. As you might expect, party and political ideology made a difference in what matters to different groups.
There is no question that the United States is engaged in a war of worldviews. The differences between the Right and Left are long-standing and substantial, with little hope of change or compromise.
This in itself is disturbing, but the issues that have the greatest potential for shredding the fabric of national unity are the ongoing moral decline within our culture and the lack of shared values. We often hear complaints that the American people are losing their manners. It’s not just loud and undisciplined children in restaurants but parents and adults of all ages and in all sorts of public places. We also see the breakdown of character and moral discipline in the politicians we elect.
The truth is, Americans don’t share their admiration for anybody or anything these days. Conservatives and liberals no longer agree on politics, religion, the media or what qualifies as free speech. We’re at the point, as we see so often in today’s news, that one man’s view of free speech is another man’s definition of hate speech.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
But all those things have been challenged by the liberal establishment, which is why many are calling for a Constitutional Convention to redefine who we are and what we believe as a nation. This would be a disaster for many of the basic rights we have taken for granted for the past two centuries. Who knows what a new constitution would look like. But for those intent on changing our country to be more godless and socialistic, it would help them achieve their goals.
Remember Benjamin Franklin’s response to the woman who asked at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” To that he replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” What the Founding Fathers gave us was a representative republic; however, today many Americans are wondering if we can, in fact, keep it.
The philosopher George Santayana said famously, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But in our current condition of cultural, educational and moral collapse, there’s no guarantee the republic the Founders gave us can survive.