WASHINGTON, February 18, 2017 — Economically, politically and morally, America today is more divided than at any time since the Civil War. For decades, a virulently partisan and gridlocked Congress has been thwarting economic growth as well as wage-earners’ incomes.
While there were passionate demonstrations during the divisive 1960s, the intensity of the partisan anger and the acute frustration of average Americans has reached staggering proportions in this century. Is this deterioration in the American spirit the direct result of a polarizing President Trump? Or was it President Obama’s deceptive and partial truth practices that created today’s chasm-like divisions?
Toward the end of President Bush’s time in office, the country began to divide virulently along party lines that had already been increasingly polarized for at least 3 decades. The long war in Iraq, a financial crisis that eventually led to a severe recession and an almost absurdly liberal view toward social issues led many Americans to feel very passionate about their opposition to President Bush. This began to harden Americans along the starkly drawn political lines that had already been established for years.
In the election campaign of 2008, Barack Obama promised to heal the country and bring us together. He promised as well to “fundamentally change” America. Generous-minded American voters took him at his word and assumed Obama’s “fundamental change” would be for the better. Voters also assumed he would unify the country as he had promised. Instead, his deceptions and partial truths began to manipulate voters and perceptions, insidiously pitting one social or ethnic group against another. He then blamed the problems of one group on the selfishness of the others, which served to widen antagonism and division.
In 2010 Obama pushed through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), usually referred to as Obamacare, which he told us would reduce the cost of health insurance by $2,500 per year and would allow all Americans to keep the doctors, the hospitals and the insurance plans they had and liked. In addition, the ACA legislation would provide health insurance to all Americans.
After passing the law, which no legislators could read before voting on it, it was discovered that the whole presentation to the public was based on deception and “the stupidity of the American people.” Health insurance costs rose and millions of Americans were forced to end long-term relationships with longtime family doctors and hospitals. Worst of all, far from providing much-vaunted universal health coverage, there are still, today, 30 million Americans without health insurance.
When questioned on these and related issues, Obama supplied alternative facts. He told us that the ACA has provided health insurance to 20 million Americans, never mentioning the uninsured. His supporters passionately defended him while his opponents passionately criticized him. This divided Americans still further.
Equally divisive if more difficult to track was the Benghazi episode, where we now know the Obama administration knew the attack on the consulate that killed four Americans was not a response to an amateurish video posted online. Yet in a speech to the United Nations, Obama himself blamed the attack on the video, knowing full well he was deceiving the public. His supporters, of course, believed him. His opponents knew he was being less than truthful. The two sides argued and they became more distant still.
Perhaps Obama’s most divisive action was to manufacture his own peculiar concept of income inequality in America. Although there are several prominent socially oriented economists who identify income inequality as a major issue, most economists view the existence of unequal incomes quite differently. The problem is really a poverty problem, lack of opportunity problem and an overly generous income maintenance policy problem, all of which are caused to varying degrees by poor education and the resulting lack of useful employment skills.
At its root, however, the income inequality problem resulted from an economy that was growing so slowly that new opportunities were scarce. Unsurprisingly, after 8 years of the Obama Administration, 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year in which annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth was less than 3 percent—the longest sub-par economic growth period in U.S. history.
When growth is substandard, there may still be opportunities for the most skilled workers who earned the highest incomes. But there are few, if any, opportunities for the lower income earners with less developed skill sets. As a result, the wealthier workers experience increases in income, while the lower income earners see wage decreases and the loss of full time job opportunities. As a result, income inequality worsens.
Obama has claimed that 90 percent of income earned went to high-income earners leaving only 10 percent for everyone else. That claim further divided the country based on income levels. Obama seemed to be blaming the woes of the lower classes on the success of the others, as if the successful Americans were taking away from everyone else: the classic “class struggle” argument long favored by the extreme left.
Obama used this perception as a valid reason to raise income taxes on the highest income earners, with the redistributive goal of giving generous welfare and food stamps to lower income earners. This created resentment and division across the country as the primary victims of this strategy were not the rich, but the increasingly impoverished middle class.
In addition to his “fundamental transformation” and effective nationalization of healthcare and his divisive income redistribution schemes, Obama further divided the country on issues of race, sexuality, immigration status and even foreign policy.
Today these deep divisions persist throughout the country. Americans of all stripes are angry, frustrated and fearful. Reflecting these divisions, members of both houses of Congress have created a deep partisan gulf based on uncompromising and steadfast positions that are diametrically opposed. But as long as politicians try to sell a position rather than seek a solution, these divisions will continue.
In his recent press conference, President Donald Trump proclaimed that we now have a “deeply divided America. I want to fix that.” Let’s hope he can seek and find solutions to our problems.
*Cartoon by Branco. Reproduced with permission and by arrangement with LegalInsurrection.