Jonathan V. Last writes:
. . . As an empirical matter . . . Obama is the most divisive president since Eisenhower, because that's when Gallup began measuring such things: By the pollster's reckoning, the partisan gap in Obama's 2012 approval rating is a yawning, historic 76 points. Remember how divisive the Bush years were? The Obama years have been worse. And it's not just a partisan divide. In 2014, a Washington Post/ABC News poll asked respondents if they viewed Obama as more of a divider or uniter. It wasn't even close among independ-ents, 59 percent of whom said he's been a divider.
Still, words are nothing compared with Obama's actions: He rammed Obamacare through without a single Republican vote. And when he couldn't find even a bare majority of votes for his immigration reform or gun control bills, he simply proceeded via executive decree.
When no one on the left was asking for it, Obama pursued the narrowest-possible reading of religious liberty, resulting in Supreme Court showdowns with a Lutheran school, which wanted to be free to hire its own ministers without government interference, and with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who didn't want to be forced to pay for abortifacients. There was no reason for Obama to pursue these policies except as an exercise in premeditated divisiveness. On the question of religious liberty, Obama has sought to undo a national consensus and foment conflict. In doing so, he set in motion a slow-rolling constitutional and cultural collision that is likely to end badly. The only reason this chaos isn't apparent to the general public is because Lutherans and nuns don't riot.
Then there's race relations. Obama was elected in large part because of his promise to heal racial wounds. It hasn't worked out that way. In 2001, Gallup found that 70 percent of blacks and 62 percent of whites thought race relations in America were somewhat or very good. By the time Obama was inaugurated those numbers had flipped, with 61 percent of blacks and 70 percent of whites (having just absolved themselves by voting for Obama, one suspects) rating race relations as good. During Obama's tenure, both numbers have been in freefall. Today, only 51 percent of blacks and 45 percent of whites think relations between the races are good.
What happened? First came Obama's decision not to prosecute two members of the New Black Panthers who had been charged with voter intimidation for their actions outside a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day in 2008. (In case you think the New Black Panthers are just a bunch of scamps, in 2014 two other members of the group were arrested for plotting to kill the chief of police in Ferguson, Mo.)
Then came Obama's penchant for wading into every racial police controversy that reached the front page of the New York Times. He took sides against the Cambridge cops in their arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. The police in this case were almost certainly in the wrong; but no one needed the president of the United States preening about it. He did the same with the death of Trayvon Martin, showing up unscheduled at a press availability to talk about the case the week after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting. Did Obama come before the cameras to reassure the public and vouch for the rule of law? No. He stoked the fires, telling America, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." This was a ridiculous exaggeration. Martin was (to put it charitably) a troubled teen with a history of problematic behavior; 35 years before, Barack Obama had been a promising student at an elite private school. By likening himself to Martin, Obama was viewing the episode through the most reductive and demagogic lens possible.
When the Michael Brown shooting turned Ferguson into a powder keg, Obama was ready for the cameras, calling it "heartbreaking" and sending his Justice Department in to ferret out wrongdoing. (They found none.) In a world full of real police abuses — such as the killing of Eric Garner in New York and the shooting of Walter Scott in Charleston — Obama seems to have a knack for tying himself to the cases where the police were actually in the right. It's enough to make one wonder if Obama can't tell the difference between proper and improper police conduct — or if he just doesn't care.
All of which lead to Obama's semi-embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement. As Heather Mac Donald has documented, Black Lives Matter is not an innocent college protest movement. It is an ugly strain of anarchic racialism that has led not just to the defense of looting but to the killing of police officers. Obama does not merely refuse to condemn Black Lives Matter — he attempts to rationalize it, explaining, "There is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that's not happening in other communities."
To his credit, President Obama has never offered to pay the legal fees of supporters who assault protesters or warned/promised violent riots should he not get his way. Donald Trump may be Obama's heir, but Trump has raised the stakes.
But it's important to understand that Trump is Obama's heir—or, at the very least, the man who wants to inherit the world Obama made. Part of the reason we have Trump today is that Obama set the table by dividing the country so completely; maneuvering so as to pit Americans against one another.
One of the hallmarks of the great dividers, of course, is that they never shut up about how hard they're really trying to unite everyone. Two weeks ago, as violence broke out in a series of incidents at his rallies, Trump insisted, against all evidence, "I'm a uniter."
And back in 2012, as he was accusing the Republican party of waging a "war on women," Obama insisted, "I don't think . . . anybody who's been watching the campaign would say that in any way we have tried to divide the country. We've always tried to bring the country together."