John L. Micek, 4/19/2016 [Archive]

From Obama to Trump: What We've Lost in Just 12 Years

By John L. Micek

Back in July 2004, when I was a (somewhat) younger political reporter, I was standing in the rafters of the old Fleet Bank Center in Boston listening to an unknown politician deliver a pretty extraordinary speech to the Democratic National Convention.

You may not remember all of the speech by an Illinois state Senate candidate named Barack Obama, but you surely remember the part where he said pundits like to "slice and dice our country into red states and blue states."

"Red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too," said Obama. "We worship an awesome god in the blue states. And we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states, and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states."

The electricity in that hockey arena, filled to the brim with Democratic activists, was palpable as Obama built to a crescendo.

"We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, all of us defending the United States of America," he said, as the crowd erupted.

That was 2004.

In 2016, we have this:

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with [them]. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

Twelve years later, that message from current Republican front-runner Donald Trump is filling basketball stadiums, too.

And it's a visceral reminder of just how much the nation has changed in the intervening years.

At home, we've gone through a deep recession whose aftershocks are still being felt.

There's unrest in the streets, fueled by anger over how law enforcement treats some of our citizens, fueled by anger over the seemingly uncrossable, and ever-growing gap, between our richest and poorest citizens.

Overseas, our foreign wars linger on.And a terrorist group, perverting the name of one of the world's great religions, is striking, with ever greater savagery, at the heart of the west.

And while we're still playing Little League together, we're surely not talking politics at the snack bar.

But just how divided are we?

A new poll by the Pew Research Center, released deep in the heart of a fractious presidential primary season, offers some sobering news.

Beyond the typical disagreement on the issues, the poll finds the differences between Red and Blue America include "fundamentally different visions of the way that life in the United States has changed."

After eight years of the Obama administration, Republican and Republican-leaning voters are more than twice as likely as Democratic voters to say life in the country has gotten worse in the intervening half-century.

And it's easy to see how those feelings have fueled the populist rise of Trump on the right and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the left.

Three-quarters of Trump supporters told Pew that life for people like them has gotten worse. Among Democratic respondents, nearly a third of Sanders' supporters agree things have gone downhill.

Underlying those numbers is deep dissatisfaction over Americans' economic fortunes — even as Wall Street booms and the wealthy grow ever wealthier.

Once again, that sentiment is more prevalent among Trump supporters (61 percent say it's rigged) and definitely the case among Sanders fans, 91 percent of whom say the U.S. economic system is unfair.

At the same time, years of war, terrorism and hateful rhetoric have frayed our views of our Muslim neighbors.

Most voters approved of subjecting Muslims entering the United States to greater scrutiny solely because of their religion.

Again, that's most pronounced among Trumpistas (64 percent). Large majorities of Clinton supporters (75 percent) and Sanders backers (85 percent) oppose such a requirement, the poll found.

That's not "one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes." That's something else, something much darker, entirely.

And the next occupant of the White House, whoever he or she is, has their work cut out for them.


©Copyright 2016 John L. Micek, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at

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