The most eye-popping figure in the latest Fox News poll is that 56 percent of those surveyed say President Trump is tearing the country apart.
Another 33 percent say he is drawing the country together.
Not surprisingly, there’s a dramatic partisan split in those numbers: Some 68 percent of Republicans say the president is drawing the country together, while 93 percent of Democrats (and 59 percent of independents) say he is tearing the country apart.
But I want to pose a deeper question: Is this entirely Trump’s fault, or is it also…ours?
Let’s look at recent history. Barack Obama campaigned on changing the tone in Washington, and many supporters thought his election would usher in a new era of racial healing. He failed on both counts.
George W. Bush explicitly ran as “a uniter, not a divider.” But after Iraq and Katrina, he was viewed as a very divisive president.
Bill Clinton promoted the notion of “third way” policies that rejected “the brain-dead politics of both parties.” He wound up getting impeached on a largely party-line vote.
So if four straight presidents have found themselves at the center of a hyperpartisan divide, maybe it’s not entirely their fault.
Both parties, aided by gerrymandered districts, have moved further to the right and left, shrinking the number of moderates in Congress.
The media have become increasingly partisan, as some outlets largely or completely cater to those who agree with their politics.
Social media have become more polarized as well, as millions of people engage in shouting matches or unfriend each other.
And the rise of independent advocacy groups, liberated by the Supreme Court, is fueled by a fundraising machine that often demonizes the other side.
Now a case can be made that Trump, especially in recent weeks, has played to his base, the 36 to 40 percent that seem to support him no matter what. He has pushed a transgender ban for the military, ended Obama-era equal pay monitoring, threatened a government shutdown over his border wall, pardoned ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio, and is considering ending the Dreamers program after a six-month delay.
Then again, it’s no accident that Obama embraced gay marriage and said he would stop deporting the dreamers--younger illegal immigrants brought here by their parents—when he was running for reelection in 2012.
It’s easy for Trump’s detractors to work themselves into a frenzy over the notion that he is a uniquely polarizing president. But this has been going on in one form or another for two decades.