Divided Against Itself

It's official, says Rex Murphy, the campaign is now longer than the term for a U.S. president. He shares his thoughts on how divisive U.S. politics is.

It's official, says Rex Murphy, the campaign is now longer than the term for a U.S. president. He shares his thoughts on how divisive U.S. politics is.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode.

It's official: the campaign for the US presidency is now longer, much longer than the term of office of those campaigning for it…At least that's what it feels like. It's full of strange agonies and inexplicable deeds too which make it appear longer.

Joe Biden's stump speech, for example. Biden doesn't exactly speak to a stump, nor happily, does the stump reply.

Thank heaven it's over. And Barack Obama won again, with a diminished vote it is true, but a victor nonetheless, and in politics, victory is the only currency that counts. Everyone of good will wishes the returning president the best of fortune dealing with the crises and perils of present day America.

The campaign itself was - in many ways - dirty, small, gritty and harsh, burned up outrageous sums of money to fund a gutter-wave of negative ads; hard issues were avoided, petty ones magnified.

What Tuesday's numbers reveal is a country with two, hard line, mutually hostile camps baring their teeth at each other, composed of rigid and sometimes furious partisans, who see their opponents as stumbling in willful darkness and beyond all redemption. They describe each other in accents of contempt and scorn, with words like stupid, moron, liar, evil and arrogant.

Mockery and malice is the idiom of American politics; money is its fuel. And tribal partisanship will be its undoing.

The results are bad news about America. The close votes speak of a nation at war with itself - rent almost down the centre… divided and rancorous. There is a deep negative chasm at the centre of the world's most successful democracy.

That divide grows deeper and sharper each cycle; the parties and their leaders, managers, press partisans of either side, social media grow more contemptuous and dismissive of the "other" side each cycle. American is set against American; the language boils to full invective, co-operation is seen as "collaboration with the enemy."

America's politics are in this sense devouring that country; robbing it of the will and maturity to face its real dilemmas: threatening economic collapse; unbearable levels of unemployment; and debt that is the stuff of nightmare and trillions.

What Lincoln said in a time of different peril is true now: A house divided against itself cannot stand.

America needs the common shared energies of all its people. It needs the will of a real majority, under the leadership of two parties who have placed behind them the ugly, useless, and toxic partisanship that is now the norm.

If the current crisis, and a new term for a now "educated in office" President, does not call up the better energies of America, the United States, for so long, despite its imperfections, the "beacon of the world" may do to itself what all its enemies together could not: break the greatest country of the world into ever smaller camps and factions, a mean, hard place from which the great dream has long departed.

This is a pivot moment in the history of the United States over which, as President, Mr. Obama will now with great effort preside.

For the National, I'm Rex Murphy.