It’s amazing how politics has seeped into everybody’s lives.
Republicans are now happy campers — relieved, finally, that there’s a politically incorrect, mostly conservative president in the White House. Democrats in the Trump era, however, seem more like the brooding, gloomy characters in a Cormac McCarthy novel.
Recent polls paint a stark picture of a divided America. It’s no surprise that 86 percent of Republicans and a scant 8 percent of Democrats are optimistic about the direction of the country, according to a Fox News poll. But, bifurcated feelings don’t stop there. They also extend to personal finances: 82 percent of Republicans and just 28 percent of Democrats are optimistic about their family’s financial situation.
And, here’s the mind-blower: A whopping 88 percent of Republicans and only 39 percent of Democrats are optimistic about their personal happiness. Yes, personal happiness is now tied to politics. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, it’s doubtful he intended “the pursuit of happiness” to be a partisan quest. Apparently, President Trump’s supporters and critics can’t get enough of him. They gobble up all the news they can find, real or fake, and they recite it back to incredulous friends and relatives in daily squabbles. It’s why The New York Times saw a tenfold increase in daily-subscription sign-ups after the election. It’s also why Breitbart News generated more than 300 million page views and zoomed to 45 million unique readers during the month after Trump’s victory.
Trump has brought many things to the national table, and an obsession with politics — for fans and foes — is one of them. Controversies in the Trump era are like car wrecks on the side of the road: Ugly, and at times shocking, but always gripping. We’re all political rubberneckers now.
The problem with politics taking over our lives is that it lays the foundation for deeper, more savage divisions, and for societal ruptures that are hard to heal. Remember the Civil War? Voters, today, see not one world, one nation or even one Trump, with differing opinions of each––but two alarmingly separate and distinct versions of each. In the latest Quinnipiac University poll, barely 7 percent of Democrats and an overwhelming 79 percent of Republicans view Trump favorably — a 72-point gap. The partisan divide continues when we look at specific traits. While only 5 percent of Democrats believe the president is honest, 77 percent of Republicans do. While just 8 percent of Democrats believe he cares about average Americans, 87 percent of Republicans do. While 5 percent of Democrats say he’s level-headed, 66 percent of Republicans do.
Polarization slices through policy issues as well. The latest Fox News poll finds that 13 times more Republicans than Democrats supported the GOP health care plan, five times more support Trump’s deportation policies and, according to a CBS poll, seven times more want to build a wall along the Mexican border. This divide touches basic values: An overwhelming 83 percent of Democrats, according to a Quinnipiac poll, fear that Trump’s election will lead to discrimination and violence against minorities. And, 64 percent of Republicans, according to a USA Today poll, believe journalists and the media are “enemies of the American people.”
Little wonder that a new Monmouth University poll finds that 75 percent of Americans have reached the conclusion that the country is “greatly divided” on the most important values. There is plenty of room in free societies for disagreement. But, when the political divide becomes extreme and personal, it blurs our ability to see and do what’s right. As journalist John Herrman points out, “weaponizing” the words of politics wraps the fabric of civilian life in a “linguistic fog of war.”
Politics works best when citizens are engaged, not consumed. Turning every disagreement into a partisan death match ensures that our public institutions will never be trusted and common ground will never be found. Unfortunately, that’s where we’re headed — unless, of course, the polarization that has been poisoning politics for more than two decades is eased by both sides and the tumultuous currents of the Trump era calm down.
It won’t be easy to turn this ship around.
Ron Faucheux is a nonpartisan pollster, political analyst and publisher of LunchtimePolitics.com, a daily newsletter on polls. He’s authored or edited six books on politics, including Running for Office, and is president of Clarus Research Group.