(CNN) — Rarely have Americans been more divided on what their country stands for than on the 246th anniversary of independence.
As red, white and blue fireworks explode in the air this Monday night, politics may not be at the forefront of most people’s minds.
However, it is undeniable that the partisan age is penetrating everyone’s lives.
If, as Abraham Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand, the years to come herald even more national turmoil. The unity that President Joe Biden advocated for in his inaugural address seems more elusive than ever.
American democracy continues to fight for its survival, as the House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol reveals increasingly terrifying details of Donald Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election. Meanwhile, the former president is impatient to launch a 2024 campaign based on his lies about voter fraud that would expose his increasingly autocratic tendencies.
In yet another example of startling political turmoil, an activist Supreme Court, shielded behind tall chain-link fences in its marble Washington courtrooms, has just stripped millions of women of their constitutional right to have an abortion. The decision validates a half-century campaign by conservative activists, many of whom have sincere moral objections to abortion, which they equate with the murder of an unborn child.
But the Supreme Court decision and the emerging patchwork system of abortion restrictions across the United States have been met with outrage elsewhere in America. This Sunday, South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem, a possible Republican presidential candidate, defended her state’s abortion ban on CNN’s “State of the Union,” when asked if abortions should be forced. giving birth to a 10-year-old girl who had been raped, or to explain how her state would deal with women deprived of the right to terminate a pregnancy. Her evasiveness encapsulated the way many abortion-rights supporters view the hypocrisy and inhumanity among some who profess to care about life, and the irreconcilable divide on this issue in the country.
Given the political discord simmering beneath the surface of this Monday’s national celebrations, it’s no wonder a staggering 85% of American adults in an Associated Press-NORC poll released last week said things in the country are going in the wrong direction. The survey formalized the obvious: For all its advantages, its abundant resources, its comparative prosperity, and its history of working to perfect its democracy, the United States is not a country comfortable with itself right now. The platitude that America’s best days are yet to come is getting harder to believe.
More reasons for pessimism
Social tensions are exacerbated by economic pressure.
The war in Ukraine is driving up food bills and driving gasoline up to record prices. Biden’s difficult presidency appears to be running out of ideas on how to help, having potentially made matters worse by pumping hundreds of millions of dollars of spending into the economy.
Gun crime in cities is reminiscing of a more violent past and every Monday brings a grim recount of the weekend’s mass shootings.
The shadow of Trump’s violent coup attempt hangs over the country.
A spate of voting restrictions in many conservative-led states and the GOP’s refusal to renew voting rights legislation are reminiscent of a poisoned era of racial repression. Liberals who once dreamed of a new Franklin Roosevelt are dissatisfied with the results of their narrow monopoly on political power in Biden’s Washington. But his radicalism also risks alienating the crucial middle section of voters who should be at stake as the GOP plunges to the right.
Unbelievably, the country is struggling to make enough infant formula to feed its babies—and having to fly in emergency supplies from abroad—a metaphor if ever there was one for a time when things don’t seem to be going too well. .
And in some regions, the spectacles that bring together Americans of all persuasions — the Fourth of July fireworks — are undermined by bans imposed because the land is dry as a tinderbox from global warming, another threat that defies political consensus to act.
A deeply divided nation
Almost every day there is a political controversy or fight that underscores the antagonism between America’s more moderate, diverse, and socially tolerant cities and suburbs and the conservatism of rural America.
Many leaders on both sides of the aisle accentuate differences for political gain, only adding to the anger sweeping the country. Elected leaders who try to unite those with differing opinions are an endangered species.
Increasingly, for those who think politically, each side of the divide sees the other as an existentialist threat to their idea of America, a schism of perception especially demonstrated in recent weeks by the struggle between supporters and opponents of the right to abortion.
On the right, disillusionment with government itself — which fueled Trump’s rise and is being exacerbated by his lies about voter fraud — is a driving force in a GOP that is giving up on democracy.
On the left, more and more people see a Supreme Court that openly flouts majority opinion as illegitimate. The high court was previously considered to be above partisan flames. But even its judges have been engulfed in a tide of fury, with snips more typical of social networks than of the opinions of the Supreme Court.
During oral arguments before the landmark overturn of Roe v. Wade last month, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wondered if the court could “survive the stench” of abortion rights being scrapped. In her majority opinion, which did just that, Justice Samuel Alito delighted in calling Roe’s reasoning “egregiously flawed.”
The Supreme Court was once seen as a moderating force for stability. But in its new eagerness to shatter precedent, the Conservative majority has turned it into yet another destabilizing force in society.
Reasons for hope for Americans
What reasons are there for hope this Independence Day? Biden insists that things are not as bad as they seem, trying to fulfill that part of the obligations of a president that involves lifting the country.
“Not a single person, not a single world leader has been found to say that the United States is going backwards,” the president insisted at the conclusion of a visit to Europe last week.
“The United States is better positioned to lead the world than we have ever been. We have the strongest economy in the world. Our inflation rates are lower than other nations in the world,” he said, though being somewhat economic in truth. in regard to the rebound in inflation that he ruled out in his day.
Biden, of course, has an interest in painting things in a better light than they are, especially with the midterm elections approaching in which Democrats will likely suffer his sub-40% approval rating.
But not everything is dark. Biden has pulled America out of the depths of the pandemic recession. Prices may be high and eat into wage gains, but unemployment is hovering around 50-year lows. This could cushion the impact of a recession that many experts fear is on the way.
In retrospect, Biden’s declaration of partial independence from covid-19 on July 4 was premature, and politically unwise. But life is much closer to normal than it was a year ago, and the United States is better prepared to deal with any resurgence of Covid-19 in the fall. There are plenty of shots to go around, though again the policy seems to threaten the greater good, as refusal to take such precautions is a badge of honor among some grassroots conservatives.
Washington may not be as hopelessly broken as it seems. Since last year, Republicans and Democrats have combined to pass a huge new law that fixes the country’s aging infrastructure, a task that eluded past presidents before Biden. And after a deal between Republicans and Democrats, the Senate passed one of the most comprehensive gun safety laws in a generation. The move may have fallen far short of the pleas of bereaved relatives of victims of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. But it was a sign that, even in this vicious political climate, progressive change through political institutions is not impossible.
For the first time in two decades, Americans are not waging major wars abroad. And Biden’s leadership of the West in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may represent the most significant display of American global leadership since the Cold War.
The bravery of those who stood up to Trump’s attempt to steal power in 2020 is also an inspiration this 4th of July. Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the House Jan. 6 committee, may alienate liberals with her political views, but she has written a place for herself in history by defending democracy, unlike many of his kneeling GOP rivals running perpetually scared of Trump.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former Trump White House aide, embarrassed much older colleagues by showing how one person can stand for the truth with her televised testimony before the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.
And if the majority of the country that didn’t want to see Roe reversed wants an example of how to turn demoralizing defeat into eventual victory, it can look to the anti-abortion movement’s years of activism to see how political change can be forged by generations of activists who They stay committed to the goal.
Because this Fourth of July, America still has a democratic political system that can be shaped by the people.
At least for now.