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Why the divided states of America would be incapable of uniting in a war crisis

Remember the first “Jaws” movie, with the threatening, ominous music each time the audience braced for the shark to attack the boat? Today, the U.S. is on the cusp of a multi-front war. I hear the Jaws music, and the boat’s name is “America Disunited.”

Before Sept.11, 2001, our government was deaf to that iconic two-note soundtrack, failing to “connect the dots” that led to the nation’s worst terrorist attack. The U.S. was bitterly politically divided on Sept. 10, 2001, especially after a Supreme Court ruling had settled the 2000 election in favor of George W. Bush.

Yet immediately after the attacks, Americans rallied behind President George W. Bush. Houses of worship were at capacity. Before a press conference on the Capitol steps, a bipartisan gathering of House members and senators spontaneously sang “God Bless America.”

Unabashed patriotism rippled the nation, inspiring record numbers of military enlistments — the greatest recruitment boom since the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Our nation has radically changed since 2001. The polarization, fractionalization, and disunity have reached a whole new level.

Would America unite again like that if there were a comparable catastrophic 9/11 attack, foreign war crisis, or Third World War? There is a long list of reasons why such a restoration of national unity cannot be presumed possible any more. Among the many reasons that come to my mind: social media, misinformation and disinformation, the lack of an agreed-upon set of facts, “whatabout-ism,” severe distrust of government agencies, institutions and departments, and news media tailoring content to the political leanings of its viewers.

These have all contributed to a decrease in patriotism — a roadblock to unity in crisis. In March 2023, a survey found that less than 40 percent of Americans now consider patriotism very important to them, down from 70 percent in 1998.

Even more troubling is patriotism’s decline among youth. A June 2023 Gallup poll reported that only 18 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds were “extremely proud to be Americans.” Among all ages, 39 percent feel extreme pride compared to 50 percent for those over 55.

Interestingly, Gallup has linked 9/11 to a decrease in patriotism. Those who had discarded it believe it had been used to “justify expansions of the military and state surveillance,” and that it had “ushered in an era of xenophobia and abuses of power.”

At this writing, the world is a leaking gas tank, surrounded by flame throwers. Hamas’s invasion of Israel and Israel’s response could potentially engulf the entire Middle East. At the same time, the U.S. is supplying Ukraine with more lethal weapons to defend against the 21-month-long Russian invasion, including long-range missiles that would have been unthinkable a year ago.

Back from his risky high-stakes trip to Israel, President Biden asked Congress to appropriate up to a $100 billion foreign aid package for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. Is Biden trying to avoid, assist, or prepare for a three-front war, requiring sustained national unity not experienced since the Second World War?

Explaining the complex reality of the $100 billion request to our allies, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said: “You’ve got the North Koreans, the Iranians, the Russians, and the Chinese, sort of, on the same side against the democratic world, so there is a connection between all of this. I am not surprised, frankly, that the administration seems to be inclined to send up a broad package.”

Already in a weak position for reelection, Biden must lead our severely fractured nation, still suffering from the 9/11-rooted war fatigue that culminated in the 2021 Afghan withdrawal debacle.

Meanwhile, FBI Director Christopher Wray has said that “we cannot and do not discount the possibility that Hamas or other foreign terrorist organizations could exploit the conflict to call on their supporters to conduct attacks on our own soil.”

Misinformation, disinformation and partisan bickering will undermine any U.S. government effort to support Israel. Now that aircraft carriers are in the region and our troops are on notice for deployment, expect a nationally organized and vocal anti-war movement to begin.

Since Hamas’s Oct. 7 surprise attack against Israel, there has been a substantial increase in pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses, in addition to antisemitic incidents, hate crimes, and the storming of a House of Representatives office building.

No matter what Biden says or does to help support and advise Israel, he will be criticized by Republicans, specifically by former President Trump and his followers. Trump’s “go-to” line is that neither the war in Israel nor Ukraine would have happened if he were president, and most GOP voters believe him.

With Trump as the likely GOP presidential nominee, every crisis scenario requiring national unity will be nearly impossible. Our enemies love how the former president foments anti-Biden sentiment and repeats misinformation. And public sentiments about democracy itself are deteriorating. How can unity ever be achieved in a crisis or war if “both Democrat and Republican voters believe it is acceptable to use violence to stop the opposing party from achieving its goals.”

Abraham Lincoln was a Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois when, on June 16, 1858, he quoted Jesus: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It didn’t, and a bloody Civil War began in 1861.

Currently, the House of Representatives is so divided that it cannot elect a House Speaker, mirroring the state of our nation. The question is, will we stand together if a national threat demands unity? Our enemies are counting on the answer to be “no.”

Can you hear the Jaws movie music?

Myra Adams served on the creative team of two GOP presidential campaigns, in 2004 and 2008.

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