Republicans have been labeling Obama as the Divider in Chief for years to mask their own divisive strategy
The combination of historical evidence and accepted fact makes it difficult to deny this simple thesis: The real story of Barack Obama’s presidency is the way in which it has been limited and colored by a shadowy, never-ending, totally bogus Republican public relations campaign of sloganeering intended to cast him as the active agent responsible for the deep, malignant divisions – racial, ethnic, religious, economic, social, cultural – that have frayed the seams of America’s public life and collective consciousness since the very day that our first African-American president took office.
Nothing better supports this conclusion than the fact that Republicans are now hilariously blaming President Obama for the not-very-funny rise to front-runner status of the singularly divisive Donald “We Will Allow No Muslim Immigrants” Trump. Running a close second is the fact that they now place on Mr. Obama’s shoulders responsibility for the growing number and visibility of white supremacist hate groups as well as the recent uptick in racist hate crimes.
Their was a well coordinated campaign/conspiracy to frame Mr. Obama early and often with the characterization of him as the Divider in Chief. A moniker clearly devised by political consultants in possession of updated copies of Lee Atwater’s old “Southern Strategy” playbook. And the characterization was usually followed, in the next sentence, by the laughable assertion that “he is the most divisive president in American history.”
Mitch McConnell proudly proclaimed himself the “Guardian of Gridlock” while incessantly and incomprehensibly complaining, for seven years, about the president’s obstructionist tactics. Mr. Obama’s obstructionism, he argues, with a smugness thickened by personal hypocrisy worthy of prison time, makes the aforementioned Divider in Chief tag justifiably applicable to the president. To which thinking people of every political stripe can only respond by saying, “huh?”
John McCain, whose attraction to a hot mic is as strong as that of a six-penny nail to a heavy-duty magnet, has been another repeat offender. Seldom do more than three hours pass without him seeking out MSNBC’s Luke Russert and, affecting the countenance/voice of a very serious person, repeating the ragged, dog-eared trope that Mr. Obama is “the most divisive president in American history.”
Ted Cruz, a unifier if there ever was one, is a big fan of the “most divisive president” phraseology. As are such similarly stalwart unifiers and practitioners of governance as Steve King, Louie Gohmert, Paul Ryan and the insidious Jeff Sessions.
Marco Rubio, who has spent his soon-to-be-abbreviated Senate career bowing and scraping before the throne of such a wealthy and morally-uplifting luminary as Sheldon Adelsen, is seemingly trying to break a Guinness record for how many times in one day he can reference the president as the Divider in Chief.
Donald Tump, however, adds an additional and darker element to his accusation by implying that Mr. Obama’s “divisive words and actions” are actually intended to weaken and “bring down America” so that it will be vulnerable to unnamed enemies both at home and abroad. As Gail Collins recently noted in the NYTimes, this is what he is referencing when, on the campaign trail, he says, “I know what Obama’s up to.”
He has no evidence, of course, to substantiate any of his blatant “I’ll say anything to pander to the conspiracy trolls and get elected” claims about a treasonous president seeking to divide and weaken the United States in order to make it available for what one guesses is an apocalypse of terror. But when did Republican mudslingers – especially those running for president – start worrying about such niceties as evidence, facts or even educated guesses when accusing political opponents of being lawless, feckless, weak or criminally indictable?
For that matter, when did their new base of voters ever insist or even care that they actually be honest or truthful when they make such charges – or, for that matter, that they be honest or truthful anytime about anything? Worst and most dangerous to our democracy, when did serious journalists decide that it was not part of their working portfolio to demand that politicians provide corroborating evidence for scurrilous charges made against their political opponents?
In other words, where is Dan Rather or even the annoying but absolutely relentless Sam Donaldson when we need old-school journalists who are unwilling to allow candidates and/or their sycophants to get away with unsubstantiated accusations directed at political opponents?
I am not in denial about the depth and destructive nature of the divisiveness that ominously threatens to rent asunder the tenuous fabric of a new, multi-cultural America being born even as it struggles to come to terms with the almost unimaginable demands of the early 21st-century.
I see very clearly the roiling tops of massive thunderheads gathering over the far horizon. I hear very clearly the sound of distant thunder. But Barack Obama – as intelligent, cerebral, sober, dignified, optimistic, hopeful, genuinely compassionate and, as David Brooks recently wrote in a NYTimes op-ed, “elegant” role model as has presided over the White House in many, many moons – is not in even the most remote sense an agent of causality per that divisiveness.
To the contrary, it has been the seven-year effort of Republicans to make the Divider in Chief case against Mr. Obama that has, in numerous instances and a variety of ways, served to widen America’s socio-economic, racial, cultural and religious fault lines such that there is now a depth and complexity to them that is unmatched in our country’s history.
How, you ask, do Republicans profit from creating the divisiveness and divisions for which they are responsible? Simple.
Apart from divisiveness, contentiousness and hostility, they have no way to consolidate their angry, fearful, low-information voters into what has been, for them, a rapidly-shrinking demographic base. It is not enough to be for something, which is why their newest acolytes don’t care that governance is no longer part of the Republican vocabulary. Anger and fear require not progress but an enemy.
They require one to be against something virulently, even apocalyptically against something. Hence, Republicans have framed Barack Obama and lumped in with him people of color, Democrats, liberals, Muslims, immigrants both documented and un-documented, the poor, the unemployed, the vulnerable and the victimized as that “enemy,” that “something” against which to be.
To understand just how venomous they feel toward President Obama, one need only recall that Marco Rubio upset Charlie Crist in the primary for the 2010 Florida senatorial nomination largely by displaying a picture of the former governor hugging Mr. Obama to thank him for the stimulus funds that came Florida’s way after the Republican-sponsored financial meltdown of 2008. Marco was already terming the president as the “enemy,” and he actually said for public consumption that he had been “horrified” at Crist’s “embrace” of the president.
For that matter, Chris Christie is still taking a beating from fellow Republicans for shaking the president’s hand as he thanked him for the federal disaster funds sent to New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. All of which leaves thinking people of every stripe with only one way to respond: “Huh?”
Despite the fiction that filled Bob Woodward’s last “insider’s look” at the Obama administration, actual insiders have long said that one of Barack Obama’s greatest disappointments has been that, as president, he faced a Republican Party that had absolutely no interest in consensus governance.
The actual insiders are right. Mr. Obama’s initial approach to his presidency almost reeked of naivete: “Together we’ll make ready again the American ship of state and prepare it to sail the turbulent seas of the 21st-century.” He quickly discovered, when congressional Republicans began firing shots over his bow on the very night of his first inauguration, that Republicans are interested in confrontation and open warfare and not in either consensus or togetherness. One can only imagine how frustrating it has been for Mr. Obama to spend the greater part of his presidency with sheets furled and hatches battened.
Democrats and their candidates tend to gaze across our country’s human landscape and see one America: Us. Republicans, on the other hand, tend to see two Americas: Us & Them. And they believe that the two Americas they see are locked in what is an existential or even apocalyptic battle for supremacy. Hence, It is, for the American Right, not just Us & Them but Us v. Them. And yet it is Barack Obama, they say, who is the Divider in Chief.
To which thinking people of every stripe can only respond by saying, “Huh?”