Here's How Divided America Is In The Trump Era

by Chris Tognotti

During President Trump's first-ever address before a joint session of Congress — not an official State of the Union, but the same thing for all intents and purposes — the divided state of American political life was on full display. If you're looking for proof, here's a vivid example: this one image from Trump's address shows just how divided the country is right now, in the form of its elected representatives.

It's not exactly a shocking image. In fact, far from it: you could find countless such images from many of former president Barack Obama's State of the Union addresses. It's a simple fact that members of opposing political parties aren't likely to rise and applaud very often, not unless the president makes a statement that's so universally undeniable that it simply must be saluted.

And while that does occasionally happen, usually in the form of support for the military or national security, those moments are few and far between. But there's no denying that division and polarization feels that much more pronounced and sharp-edged nowadays than it has in years past — with one of the most inflammatory presidents of all time in office, and the least popular one so early in their first term according to the polls, the battle lines of partisan politics may feel more like moral necessities than ever.

In fact, during the Obama era, there was one even more memorable, aggressive show of division and disrespect — remember Rep. Joe Wilson? He was the guy who yelled "you lie" at Obama in the middle of his address, earning him the stern condemnation of Democrats, progressives, and advocates for decorum in the House chamber, and winning the hearts of, well, everyone who wanted to see a relatively no-name representative scream at the president on national television. Trump, for all the vitriolic-yet-factually-accurate things Democrats could've yelled at him Tuesday night, suffered no such disrespect.

All the same, however, it's a stark visual reminder of where the nation's politics have been, and where they remain. There's virtually no overlap, no center of the Venn diagram. It's just two circles, miles apart, chock full of people who seem to want little to do with one another. The big question, of course, is whether that will ever change, or whether this kind of polarization is an unstoppable one-way ratchet.