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MIKE MASTERSON: Can divided nation heal?

We baby boomers born of World War II veterans and their families came up largely accepting that each American has individual rights to believe, vote and worship as they please. After all, we are Americans who have invested our blood and treasure (and those of our ancestors) in preserving those freedoms.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that many Americans were expressing that while they might not agree with another’s opinion, they would die for their right to express it. Such nonpartisan, heartfelt attitudes of millions doubtlessly provided a comforting sense of unity among many Americans.

While others can disagree, I believe any shared feeling of inclusiveness began to noticeably disintegrate with the election of George W. Bush and his ill-conceived attack on Iraq to avenge Saddam Hussein’s reported threat to kill his father, George H.W. Bush. At least that’s the comment Bush Junior made.

I wrote on the eve of our invasion what a mistake it was to launch Bush’s media-embedded shock and awe campaign minus an exit strategy. I used the metaphor of jamming a stick into a hornet’s nest without a planned escape.

With Hussein long gone and Iraq continually ravaged, along with the nightmare in neighboring Syria (and throughout the Middle East), the results and price of our rash miscalculations are sadly apparent.

Harsh feelings intensified when Bush stood on that carrier deck after the Iraq invasion beneath a huge banner proclaiming, “Mission Accomplished.” History embedded that image among its greatest presidential overstated blunders.

The most obvious signs of a growing national divide for me came at the end of Michael Moore’s 2004 film, Fahrenheit 9/11, denigrating Bush Junior for his “War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan, which concluded with standing cheers from the audience.

Since then, both major political parties have steadily devolved from what for decades had been a bipartisan approach to governing into entrenched resistance between acolytes of the extreme left and far right.

Long accustomed to supporting one party or the other during more reasonable political periods, millions have found themselves being pushed into either supporting or resisting these revamped and extreme versions.

The bipartisan, more negotiative-minded eras of Congress during the tenures of Fulbright, Mills, McClellan and Hammerschmidt have hardened into chronic impasses and this “resist the opposing party at all costs” mentality we must endure today.

Along with such radical change has come the destructive atmosphere of sustained contention fueled by a steady, numbing drumbeat of mostly negative media coverage about our 45th president. That’s supported by a hostile contingent of outspoken Hollywood actors and actresses.

Many even judge one’s worthiness today by which TV channels we choose for information.

Angry actor Robert DeNiro seemed to summarize the impasse among Tinseltown leftists the other day when the Washington Times quoted him saying American politics under Trump had reached the point “beyond trying to see another person’s point of view.”

He said more: “… [T]hings that are happening in our country are so bad and it comes from Trump. There are so many people who have left his administration. It’s a serious thing.”

Director Josh Whedon amplified DeNiro in tweets: “Donald Trump is killing this country. Some of it quickly, some slowly, but he spoils and destroys everything he touches.He emboldens monsters, wielding guns, governmental power, or just smug doublespeak. … My hate and sadness are exhausting. Die, Don. Just quietly die.”

Inflammatory words sufficient to generate emotions in those who agree or disagree. And so the muck of hate and demonization flings back and forth, forcing many Americans to choose sides.

Millions of others who voted for and support Trump’s efforts use social media to say the large turnover among those he trusts and doesn’t is expected when he’s trying to drain the enormous and powerful D.C. swamp of corruption and his entrenched underminers. So he is doing exactly what he was elected to do.

I watched as the divide intensified under eight polarizing years of Barack Obama’s administration when racial tensions were resurrected and stoked across society, along with the flagrant demonization and murder of police officers. Many Americans also wondered how someone the likes of avowed agitator and racial extremist Al Sharpton (saddled with enormous tax debts) reportedly visited our White House 85 times.

Liberals say Obama was unpopular among millions of Americans because of his race. I discounted that, knowing how many non-bigoted people I respect who voted against the man solely for his beliefs and related policies rather than skin color.

Most of these folks, in fact, sincerely hoped Obama would succeed once he became president.

But, as with Trump, his actions, inactions and controversial policies fueled further divisions, leading in 2009 to formation of the constitutionally devoted Tea Party, and in 2017 to opposition leftist groups such as Indivisible.

There’s little question in my mind that Trump’s perpetual tweets, and unpredictably brash and sometimes uncouth behavior in his own discomforting style have caused him to become as polarizing a figure to the liberal left as Obama became to the conservative right.

No need to write that nasty letter, friends. I understand how strongly you feel about your positions, which is precisely why I wrote this about our division and demonization.

What is tragically missing today isn’t further name-calling, vitriol and discord. Flinging endless rhetorical hatred only further alienates all of us, which in turn continues to improve nothing.

What our nation cries out for in the present darkness within its spirit is reasonable, authentic leadership within the D.C. Beltway that not only listens and unifies, but heals the injury to our union created by political power struggles and love of self rather than of our country.

The last time we were united as a nation was in the aftermath of 9/11 and previously by Pearl Harbor. It’s sobering to wonder if even those types of national horrors might not be sufficient to heal our divisions.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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