BANNER ELK, N.C. – Even the least popular presidents sometimes do great things.
What might Donald Trump’s great thing be? He has unified a divided nation.
He has brought Republicans and Democrats together as only just wars can. He’s brought women, scientists, minorities, teachers, journalists, professors – and no, they’re not all liberal – out of their favorite laptop seats and moved them to march, protest and, most important, run for public office.
The pink-capped Women’s March is familiar to all but the dead. On Earth Day in April, scientists around the world staged rallies to protest Trump’s apparent lack of interest in research-backed facts.
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A few prominent conservatives – George Will and Joe Scarborough among them – have left the GOP, while Democrats have offered to take drastic action.
A majority say they would forswear drinking for life if it would mean Trump’s impeachment, according to a story in The Hill. This seems a tad excessive, though given the increased alcohol consumption (anecdotally) since Trump took office, a long-term wagon ride might be just what the doctor would order. Relatedly, if not causatively, Nevada ran out of marijuana products a few days after the state legalized recreational use.
When have so many Americans of so many stripes been so united in a shared mission? And, no, Woodstock doesn’t count.
Other gifts from the president include an increased national interest in politics, civic participation and electoral office. Trump seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, even among those who have never before expressed any interest in politics.
Chris Clark, an artist in this mountain village, echoed the sentiments one hears several times on any given day. “I’m obsessed with the news,” he told me during a recent visit to his gallery.
“All I do is watch TV now,” he laughed. “It’s like watching a train wreck, you can’t look away. It’s hard to go to work, really!”
Meanwhile, countless Republicans and Democrats and independents, the nonpolitical as well as scientists, teachers, and, sure, a freshly emboldened outlier class (Jay Z?) are considering running for public office, a goal previously not on the radar.
A newly formed Political Action Committee – 314 Action – is urging scientists to “Get Elected” and offers help with funding and logistics. Hundreds have signed up. Similarly, Silicon Valley tech magnate Sam Altman – president of Y Combinator, which invests in start-ups such as Dropbox and Airbnb – is offering to fund good candidates for statewide office to “create prosperity through technology, economic fairness and maintaining personal liberty.”
Nationally, a centrist movement is gaining traction under the self-explaining name of “No Labels,” and may yet prove to be a counterforce in the zero-sum sport of current politics. The group organized in 2010 and is co-chaired by former Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Democrat (later Independent) Joe Lieberman.
Today, more than 70 members of Congress from both parties have formed a bipartisan coalition called the “No Labels Problem Solvers,” pledging to work together on legislative initiatives. Earlier this month, the congressional group released its first bipartisan effort – a “Make Government Work!” legislative package aimed at reducing government waste and inefficiency. Coming up in September, No Labels will host an international Ideas Summit to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.
Thus, though our national political narrative is that we’re more divided than ever, a dispassionate second look suggests otherwise. We’re not so much divided as stuck. Running in mud. That’s not the swamp draining; it’s the muck of money, greed, self-interest and one-upmanship – Washington’s unique art of the deal.
We don’t have only Trump to thank. The ecosystem of media-generated conflict and America’s penchant for spectator sports has ensured a persistent game of warring factions – a perfect milieu for someone like Trump with his particular talents. He merely strolled to the lectern, called everybody else a loser, and plowed his way to the presidency on a whim and the most golden of promises – to make America great again.
We have work to do. There is hope. A trend seems to be taking shape if momentum can be nourished. What an irony if Trump’s presidency made America great again by inspiring people to get elected whose civilian lives have been circumscribed by the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and truth, which is not, in fact, relative.
Trump would go down as one of the greatest unifying presidents in history – the sooner the better.
The writer is a columnist for The Washington Post.