In the Trump era, Americans can’t agree on the past, let alone the future



August 5, 2019 - 9:56 AM

President Donald Trump talks to members of the media before boarding Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 24. SIPA USA/OLIVER CONTRERAS/TNS

As President Trump and Trump’s myriad critics remind us on a daily basis, ours is today a profoundly divided nation. Yet understanding the source of those divisions, amply displayed in perceptions of this week’s Democratic debates, requires looking beyond the antagonisms of the moment. Americans need to recover what aviators call situational awareness — a knowledge of where we are and how we got here.

Toward the end of “Personal History,” his bestselling account of his adventures as a foreign correspondent in the 1920s, Vincent Sheean reflects on the difficulty of taking what he calls “the long view.” Perspective, he writes, requires “finding a point in time from which events can seem ordered.”

What precisely is the “point in time” to which Americans today can refer as they try to make sense of ongoing events? Our present-day inability to answer that question goes far toward explaining the pervasive discontent afflicting the nation. Put simply, we’ve lost any shared sense of America’s place in the stream of history.

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