In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned as a new kind of politician, someone who could bring America's disparate factions together in a new era beyond partisan politics.
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics," the president proclaimed in his inaugural address in 2009.
President Barack Obama walks through the Colonnade at the White House January 12, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Like many of Obama's campaign promises, things haven't quite worked out that way.
After eight years of his own partisan attacks, wildly unpopular legislation and unilateral executive actions, Obama has proven to be one of the most divisive presidents in U.S. history.
Here are seven ways in which Americans are less united today than they were when Obama was first elected:
1. Partisan Antipathy Growing
According to the Pew Research Center polling data, Republicans and Democrats are "more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades." After surveying 10,000 people, Pew found that people have grown far more ideologically inflexible. The number of Americans who express either consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10 percent to 21 percent.
2. Most Americans Believe Country is On The Wrong Track
As of January 11, 70 percent of American voters believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. This number has been consistent throughout Obama's presidency, having hit a high of 81 percent in 2013.
3. Trust in Government is at an All-Time Low
For decades, the Gallup Organization has been asking Americans about how much they trust the federal government. In 1972, for example, the year of the Watergate break-in, a whopping 72 percent of Americans said they trusted the government "a fair amount or a great deal." After eight years of Obama, that figure has plummeted to just 45 percent, the lowest its been since Gallup began asking the question.
4. Ordinary Americans Worse Off Economically
Obama's supporters point out that he inherited an economic disaster in the 2008-2009 credit wipeout. Yet despite the rhetoric, after eight years of his policies, Americans are worse off today than they were in 2008. Labor participation rates are at record lows. Because cost-of-living increases since the recession officially ended in 2009, real wages have actually declined for most U.S. workers.
5. Greedy Government Workers
The number of government workers has not increased markedly under Obama, contrary to popular belief. However, the pay certainly has: According to a study by the Cato Institute, federal workers’ pay and benefits were 78 percent higher in 2014 than private employees who earned an average of $52,688 less than public sector workers last year. This has fueled the perception that government employees are out for themselves at the expense of the public they purport to serve.
6. Borrowing From Future Generations
If there is one area where Obama stands heads and shoulders above past presidents, it's his debts. As many have pointed out, Obama has borrowed more money in eight years than all previous administrations -- combined. It took 200 years and two world wars for the United States to accumulate $10 trillion in debt. But since he took over, Obama has managed to increase that to $18 trillion. That, rather than Obamacare, will be his real legacy.
7. Looming Retirement Apocalypse
Finally, America is facing a retirement apocalypse that will soon pit older retirees against younger workers. A new GAO study finds that 29 percent of babyboomers have no pension or retirement savings whatsoever. Even among those who do have savings, the amounts are small: just $104,000 for households with members between 55 and 64 years old, enough to generate an annuity of just $310 per month. The massive expansion of government spending under Obama has encouraged the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates at near zero for six years, lowering the interest on the debt that the government must pay. But it has also meant that retirees earn practically nothing on their savings.
Bottom line: Government policies under Obama have benefited some groups (government workers, immigrants) while they has severely harmed many others (retirees, the middle class).
As a result, the State of the Union is divided... and it looks like it will continue to be so for many, many years to come.
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