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Sharon Yin, Queens University.
During a 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Obama called for a more unified America. In his keynote speech in support of John Kerry’s presidential campaign, Obama emphasized that America is not defined by “red states” or “blue states”, and that “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s [only] the United States of America”.
Sixteen years later, the unity that Obama envisioned is shattered: America is more divided than ever.
In examining this division, the strength and power of ideologies must not be overlooked. The fact of the matter is, life experiences vary between individuals, and this variation in people’s lived experiences can lead to differences in values and belief systems. Individuals’ ideologies are often so powerful and unwavering that they are unable to recognize their beliefs as a part of those ideologies. Some believe their ideals and thoughts to be “so basic, so bedrock, that it’s just ‘impossible’ for others to think differently.” These entrenched ideologies are one of the most important factors at play in America’s division. This division has been steadily on the rise in recent years, and now, for the first time, Americans’ hatred towards those who oppose them has exceeded their attachment to those who share the same beliefs. Those who strongly affiliate with one party in America are increasingly starting to see the other as “not just different but less moral, less trustworthy, and unrecognizable.”
This division has deepened under the Trump administration. Trump has repeatedly attacked his political opposition, painting them in a negative light. He has portrayed the Democratic party as “totalitarian” and accused them of trying to “impose their socialism agenda” on America. In addition to antagonizing his political opponents, Trump’s deeply divisive speeches have torn America apart. This year, his speech on Independence Day claimed that there is an urgent need to defeat “the radical left,” and accused “social justice protestors of trying to destroy America.” In demonizing the opposition in this way, Trump has effectively created an “us vs them” mentality within the American public.
What is perhaps even more concerning is the “fake news” rhetoric that he has pushed forth during his presidency, which has slowly “mutated into a full-blown assault on the American free press.” In a tweet from 2017, Trump claimed that the “FAKE NEWS media” is the “enemy of the American people.” In attacking the free press, Trump’s administration undermines truth and consensus, spreading misinformation that is wrought with hostility and threatens to further divide the country. This rhetoric erodes Americans’ faith in the media and press, leaving them to question the truth and what to believe. Facts from reputable news sources, which were once a source of unity, agreement, and common ground, have now manifested into a source of debate and division. As well, during his presidency, Trump has made no shortage of false claims. The hostility, anger and bitterness carried in these claims continue to paint his opponents as the enemy, turning Americans against one another and fueling hatred.
Yet, even as Trump has lost the election, he leaves behind one final legacy that furthers the division across the nation. After refusal to concede following his loss to Biden, Trump and his campaign have made baseless accusations of large-scale voter fraud in several states. These accusations have mobilized many Trump supporters to protest the election results, with many organizing “Stop the Steal” rallies that claim the election was stolen from them. The ongoing protests across the country are pitting Trump’s supporters and opponents against one another. Trump’s questioning of democratic processes and the legitimacy of the votes counted leaves behind one last legacy of division for America; one that is perhaps the most dangerous yet: the ability to question the accuracy of the foundational democratic process itself.
Although Biden’s victory has been called, there is no denying the closeness of the race, with nearly 50% of Americans opting to vote for Republicans. This means that while Biden has won the election, the battle has just begun in trying to unite the nation. As the results of the 2020 election and the ongoing protests about the results illustrate, America remains a deeply divided nation.
There has been a great deal of turbulence and turmoil under the Trump administration. Everything from the rise of the “fake news” rhetoric, to the generation of anger, hatred and bitterness toward the opposition has all contributed to the increasing rift in America. With this deep divide, America cannot function as a coherent nation. A nation unable to reach consensus faces a greater challenge when making important decisions and implementing new policies. Ongoing resistance and rejection of Biden’s authority will make it near impossible to enact any form of change. In trying to piece America back together again, Biden has got his work cut out for him.
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