INDIANAPOLIS — Distance lends perspective.
I just have returned from two weeks in Great Britain.
As I left the United States, President Donald Trump busied himself stirring up a Twitter storm by calling for four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back where they came from. As I returned, the president devoted his attention to attacking the district of a congressman, also of color, as infested with vermin.
In between, Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before two U.S. House committees in a calm, dispassionate fashion that Russia had interfered in our 2016 election, that the president’s campaign welcomed and sometimes collaborated with that interference and that the president lied about it afterward and may have obstructed justice.
Mueller’s testimony changed no minds.
The people who wanted to start impeachment proceedings against the president right after he took the oath of office still felt that way. Those willing to stand with Trump even if, to use his example, he shot someone, remained devoted to him.
There didn’t seem to be many folks in between.
The news coverage in England and Scotland of my homeland made the United States seem an angry, snarling place. Americans, it appeared, spent all their time saying nasty things about each other.
As is often the case, being in another land prompted me to think a lot about my own country. I wondered how we arrived at this point.
It seems like it has been a long time since we had a president that roughly half the nation did not hate.
I lived through the Bill Clinton years, when the right mounted investigation after investigation after investigation that culminated in an impeachment proceeding that tried to overturn two national elections.
I also watched during the George W. Bush tenure, when many Americans on the left talked about emigrating to Canada in protest and railed that he was an illegitimate president because he’d lost the popular vote in 2000 and the U.S. Supreme Court had stopped recount proceedings in Florida.
And I took note during Barack Obama’s presidency, when many Republicans, including the one who now occupies the Oval Office, argued that Obama wasn’t even an American and that he was a “socialist” for adapting for national use a health-care plan devised by a conservative think tank and first implemented by a Republican governor.
I’ve got to admit that I never understood the animosity toward Clinton, Bush and Obama. Each, in his way, was a conventional political figure. Even Obama, the first black president in America’s history, started his career in a rather typical fashion, by attending Ivy League schools.
Their policies were far from revolutionary. Bush was right of center. Obama was left of center. And Clinton never found a center line he couldn’t straddle.
Yet each was treated as if he were the anti-Christ by political opponents.
The why of that is puzzling.
Maybe, when the Cold War died and nearly 50 years of hating the Soviet Union came to an end, we Americans decided to start directing that anger and animosity at our fellow citizens instead. Without a common enemy to unite us, we turned on each other.
Whatever the reason, for almost 30 years now we’ve escalated differences of opinion into blood feuds on a routine basis. In the process, we’ve so casually tossed around derogatory definitions — fascist, socialist, etc. — of those with whom we disagree that those terms have lost all meaning.
The result has been a national dialogue so debased that we can’t even stop bickering in the face of real threats. Because we are so used to looking at everything through partisan lenses, we can’t see when our institutions genuinely are under assault.
Donald Trump profits from this.
When conventional political figures provoke outrage disproportionate to their actions, it’s easy for people to think of outrage as the norm — and to begin accepting things truly outrageous as merely matters of course.
That’s where we are now.
Even when we’re told we’re under attack — first by the Russians, soon by the Chinese — we don’t let it distract us from squabbling with each other.
There are people out there who call Donald Trump a monster.
If so, he’s a monster of our making.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.