In his newest column for the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. diagnoses Trump’s need to divide the nation in hopes of hanging onto power: “For Trump and his enablers, national unity is not a noble goal but a dire threat to their political well-being.”
The piece is excerpted below and available in full here.
It’s often innocently assumed that presidents, by virtue of the office they hold, automatically push aside partisanship in the face of national crises. The slaughter at the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh combined with the pipe bombs sent to President Trump’s opponents have certainly created such a moment.
But this wishful thinking overlooks the central fact about Trump’s approach to politics: His grip on power depends entirely on splitting the nation in two. Angry division — rooted in race, gender, immigration status, religion and ideology — allowed Trump to become president. Absent a politics of us-versus-them, Trumpism makes no sense at all.
… The legitimation of group hatred in the interest of electoral success is the goal of Trump’s hyping an immigrant “caravan” from Central America (dutifully given extensive coverage by the very same media Trump regularly assails) and the administration’s threat to close our southern border. A White House official unapologetically put a partisan spin on what is supposed to be a serious policy, describing Trump’s border move as a way “to address the Democrat-created crisis of mass illegal immigration.”
The failure of Republican leaders to denounce a president who is devoting himself to ripping us apart reflects a ground-level truth about Republicanism in 2018: The party of Lincoln and Eisenhower has been consumed — temporarily, one devoutly wishes — by a narrow and exclusionary form of identity politics.
… Normally, calls to end polarization speak of the need to “bring the two parties together” to find “compromises.” But these benign bromides are useless when one party thrives on aggravating mistrust, acrimony and fear.
This is not about blaming Trump for the pipe bombs or the synagogue killings. Responsibility falls upon those who undertook these evil actions. But it is undeniable that the president — with the acquiescence and, too often, the support of his party — has heightened ethnic and racial conflict for his own political benefit.
For Trump and his enablers, national unity is not a noble goal but a dire threat to their political well-being.