The state of the union is fractured – Washington Examiner

If President Trump tells the truth before a joint session of Congress, he will not say that what his predecessors have always said, that “the state of the union is strong.”

The state of our union is fractured. And that makes us weak.

There are plenty of positive indicators. Unemployment is still below 4 percent. Economic growth has averaged 3 percent over the past year and a half. Median wages are finally rising in real terms.

These things matter, as many others do, but they sit on the surface. The health of the republic does not begin and end with the economy. The health is not identical to wealth. What lies beneath is rotting, and good surface conditions cannot persist for long around a rotting core.

At the core of our country right now is far too much discord amounting to hatred. We have lost the ability to debate civilly. We are losing shared customs and shared culture. Our values are diverging so dramatically that we increasingly believe opposing views are not merely incorrect but intolerable and can be held only by those who are fools or are evil. Recent weeks bear this out.

The Super Bowl was traditionally a shared cultural event, something of a national holiday. This year, it became cursed ground to many cultural elites. Musicians who played at the halftime show were cursed as culture-war traitors and enemies of the people. That’s because Trump criticized NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.

A recent commercial for razor blades caused a kerfuffle for days. The seemingly banal message — don’t bully kids or harass women — was taken by thousands as a politically charged attack on the very notion of masculinity. That’s part the fault of those who made the ad, which was deliberately political, invoking the confirmation hearing of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, an event that drove wedges deep into our society. Most of those following either unblinkingly believed allegations that were never corroborated or assumed that his accuser was a blatant and opportunistic liar.

Then there was the Covington Catholic affair. It was actually a very ordinary occurrence. For decades, student groups visiting Washington, D.C., have encountered groups like the Black Hebrew Israelites, whose purpose in life is provocation and heckling. But this encounter happened in the age of social media and of Trump.

So for days, teenagers were slandered for an imperfect, but nevertheless mostly admirable, reaction to adult hecklers and provocateurs. Politicians piled on. Even Catholic bishops and scholars attacked the boys, all without adequate knowledge of the events.

It is an unimpressive and broken society that turns such an incident into a partisan winner-take-all culture war. And ours is now such a society.

Even the State of the Union’s existence was fiercely fought over. The House speaker’s invitation to the president, typically a formality, was revoked on flimsy security concerns as a power play in hostilities over the government shutdown. When formalities become real points of contention, the well is poisoned.

Trump’s election spurred hundreds of thousands of #Resisters to take to the streets and to behave as though their ends, vague as they have always been, nevertheless justified almost any means. The advent of the Trump presidency has ended friendships, fractured conservatism, scrambled the Republican Party, and driven the Left and the Democratic Party to foam-flecked extremes.

Trump affects his critics greatly, often to their detriment. But he is also a provocateur. When former President Barack Obama weighed in on the story of Cambridge police questioning Harvard professor Skip Gates for “breaking in” to his own house, it was an extraordinary breach of protocol — a president inserting himself into an issue where he had no place. Trump inserts himself thus unnecessarily all the time.

A society where every cultural occurrence is a culture-war battlefield is not a healthy one. The state of this union is not strong.

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