As the most important election of our lifetimes barrels toward the home stretch, it’s worth pondering the significance of a single line from the last presidential debate. In response to debate moderator Kristen Welker’s final question—“Imagine this is your inauguration day; what will you say in your address to America, to Americans who did not vote for you?”—President Trump, near the end of his response, remarked strikingly, “We have to make our country totally successful as it was prior to the plague coming in from China. . . . Success will bring us together” (emphasis added).
This portion of the president’s answer is deceptively powerful in the current moment. The best argument the president can make in the final days of the 2020 campaign to those who have not yet voted is that he is an exceptional steward of the economy—and that his track record was disrupted only by the onset of the novel coronavirus and exacerbated by maddening overreactions from lockdown-happy blue-state governors and blinkered public-health experts.
The reason this is such a good point to hammer home and drive support at the polls is because the country really is badly divided, for a whole host of reasons. A partial list of causes would include decades of bad trade deals, stupid wars, and massive illegal immigration, all of which have been compounded by the more recent outbreak of the liberty-destroying viruses of political correctness and critical race theory, together with a news media that prefers to push narratives (always, conveniently, in favor of the Democratic Party) rather than report facts.
America is seriously polarized, and Americans have been set at each other’s throats along lines of race, class, and sex. What, then, might bring the vast majority of Americans together?
Ordinarily, a country (especially one like ours) would be able to rally to its founding and its shared traditions to inspire unity again. High ideals and past triumphs would provide more than ample motivation to tackle the challenges that face them. But how can we forge togetherness and unity out of rancid raw material—intense division bordering on outright hatred for those who vote for the other party and dangerous, not to mention deeply irresponsible, rhetoric endorsing a “coup” should the president win reelection?
President Trump seems to have hit on the method: Stress something that still binds us, despite all the hate. Americans can still agree that widely shared prosperity is better than destitution and recession, and President Trump must stress that he can deliver that economic success story again if he is given a second term. Again, he already has.
At a moment when our nation is in so many ways like a “house divided,” mutual enmity and mistrust are the order of the day, and we disagree vigorously on first principles, a leader must—of necessity—look to “lower” goods to foster unity. Material prosperity is one such avenue. None of this is to say that economic growth, resulting in improved conditions for many, is not important; it certainly is. But rather that material prosperity is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Mere life, even a comfortable one, ought to be in service of living a good life. But if mere life is all that can unite us, so be it, and only a fool would fail to stress it.
And at this critical inflection point in the history of our country, that might be the only thing about which we can all agree. That’s OK, and President Trump should push it from now until the fat lady sings because it’s his ticket to four more years—and it’s America’s ticket to get off this frightening slope to its destruction.