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Opinion: Where Do We Go From Here?

Wholesale change in the political environment seems far off

President Donald Trump makes remarks to the media upon arriving in the Capitol for a meeting on immigration with House Republicans on June 19. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald Trump makes remarks to the media upon arriving in the Capitol for a meeting on immigration with House Republicans on June 19. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

On Monday evening, Judy Woodruff asked me and USA Today’s Susan Page on the “PBS NewsHour” how the country moves forward from its current state of division. I didn’t have a good answer.

I said what I have been saying for years: I don’t see an obvious solution.

The country is increasingly divided because of the nature of our campaigns and the makeup of the media, as well as the increased role of each party’s more ideological wing.

Barring the elimination of the internet, cable TV and talk radio, or the re-establishment of broad-based parties, I see no reason to expect a return to civility or national unity.

President Donald Trump is most responsible for injecting another dose of meanness and division into our politics, though the divide did not begin with him.

Liberals and Democrats have contributed to the bitterness and fracture over the years, and nobody should let Samantha Bee, Peter Fonda, Robert DeNiro or Harry Reid (for changing the filibuster rule) off the hook.

Starts at the top

Still, if any single person has the responsibility and the opportunity to encourage some healing, it is the president.

He represents the entire country — both those who voted for him and those who didn’t — and he has the platform to address the entire nation.

Yet Trump always seems to take the opportunity to mock, bully, boast and divide.

Anyway, I have a different answer now about bringing the country together than the one I gave Judy a few days ago, though I readily admit it’s a long shot.

First, I don’t expect things to improve between now and the fall of 2020 no matter what happens during the midterms.

Win or lose in November, I don’t see the president changing his approach.

The case for a Trump 2.0 rests on the argument that he once was a Democrat and fashions himself a deal-maker.

If Democrats take over the House (likely), or possibly the House and Senate (unlikely), Trump will have no option but to deal with Democrats, which would require compromise from all involved.

But the president has thrown in with the nation’s populists and nationalists, and they with him.

His comments and policies about immigrants, crime, America’s allies and trade — and the language he has used over the past two years to describe his adversaries — have already defined him and his presidency.

Reaching out to the Democrats isn’t likely to gain him friends, but it could undermine his relationship with his base.

Nor do I see Republicans fleeing from Trump, even if his party suffers a midterm defeat.

Trump and his followers will find plenty of people to blame — and that won’t include anyone in the White House.

Sure, GOP leaders on Capitol Hill would be worried about a stinging loss, but they have already shown that they lack any backbone to take on the president.

From the Archives: Flake Condemns Trump’s Attacks on Media

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Through thick and thin

While members of the media whine at least daily about Trump, it’s still politically incorrect to blame those Americans who support him. And yet, Trump’s supporters — from the grass roots to most members of Congress — are enablers who have stuck with him no matter what he says and does.

It doesn’t matter how crude or uninformed the president is, his supporters cheer him on and encourage his bad behavior. Gallup recently asked Americans whether or not 13 different characteristics applied to Trump.

The responses were appalling.  A stunning 90 percent of Republicans said the president is “intelligent,” a remarkable assessment given Trump’s rambling and inarticulate speeches, his aversion to reading, the shallowness he displays during interviews, and his lack of knowledge about American government and history.

Interestingly, 77 percent of Republicans said Trump “understands complex issues.”

I certainly have not seen that, but, in any case, I would have thought the ability to understand complex issues was a prerequisite for being intelligent.

Apparently, more than a few Republicans disagree.

Gallup also asked respondents whether they consider Trump “honest and trustworthy,” and seven out of 10 Republican respondents said he is.

Just think about that for a moment. Let it sink in. You don’t have to dislike Trump to know that he tells falsehoods all the time.

His lies have been well-documented by members of the media, and he has even admitted making up numbers about trade when he talked to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It would take significant effort to avoid the conclusion that — both in his public and private lives — Donald Trump is dishonest and untrustworthy.

The road to 2020

Given the president’s popularity in his own party and the investment his supporters have in him, the chances of a successful renomination challenge to Trump are microscopic.

The same goes for a possible third-party effort.

In theory, a ticket of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, looks intriguing, but the reality of the Electoral College makes a third-party bid the longest of long shots and would likely benefit Trump.

That leaves one unlikely option: A Democratic nominee who selects a Republican running mate to run on a ticket of national unity.

Short of that, a Democratic ticket could promise during the party convention to select at least a handful of prominent Republicans for the Cabinet — picking only from those Republicans who have challenged Trump’s abuses.

I know this is unlikely.

Arizona Sen. John McCain’s advisers convinced him not to pick Joseph I. Lieberman for his running mate in 2008, and liberal Democrats would be outraged at the idea of a Democratic president or a Democratic ticket inviting Republicans into a new administration.

But Donald Trump is undermining confidence in America’s institutions and distorting the values that helped make this country great.

Getting the country back together — understanding that there will be strong differences about how to handle problems — must be a primary goal of the first president in a post-Trump America.

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