Ben Shapiro: We Can't Blame President Trump for the Division in America | Opinion

Americans are more obviously divided now than at any time in the recent past. We're divided along racial lines; we're divided along religious lines; we're divided politically. The common reaction in the media has been to blame this on the presidency of Donald Trump. But that simply isn't true. Those divisions began to emerge during the Obama administration; President Trump's election was merely a symptom of those divisions.

Take, for example, race relations. By Gallup poll data, just 45 percent of Americans were worried about race relations either a "great deal" or a "fair amount" in March of 2008. But by March 2015, that number had risen to 55 percent; by March 2016, the number was 62 percent. This was before Trump's election. Today, the number stands at 64 percent.

On religion, similar numbers emerge. America has become significantly less religious over time; accorsing to ABC News/Washington Post polls, as of 2003, 50 percent of Americans identified themselves as members of a Protestant faith, but by 2017, that number was just 36 percent. The share of Christians overall dropped from 83 percent in 2003 to 72 percent in 2017. The number of religious adults now stands at 21 percent, up from 12 percent in 2003.

How about politically? The seething partisan hatred we've now come to expect from American politics didn't emerge from nowhere thanks to President Trump. Already in 2017, some 64 percent of Democrats tell a Pew Research Survey they have only a few or no Republican friends; 55 percent of Republicans say the same. What's more, according to data cited by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler in their book on political division, Prius or Pickup?, partisan hatred for the other party has increased steadily over time among Democrats since 2000, followed by an uptick in hatred from Republicans over time. In 2000, only about 20 percent of both Republicans and Democrats hated the other party; by 2016, those numbers were closer to 50 percent.

The reason to parse all of this isn't to exonerate President Trump as the cause of our political divisions; there's no question that the president's overheated rhetoric and trollish nature have exacerbated pre-existing divisions. The reason that we must accurately date our divisions is that we need to understand that those divisions run far deeper than President Trump, and that despite the mainstream media's efforts to attribute the fraying of the social fabric to Trump, the truth is that Trump could disappear tomorrow and the social fabric will remain rent.

The solution to our divisions doesn't lie in getting rid of Trump. It lies in reconnecting at a social and moral level with one another.

Read more from Ben Shapiro: Why millennials need adulting classes

There's been a lot of talk recently about the necessity of getting outside our social bubbles—bubbles made thicker by the presence of self-referential social media algorithms—and dealing with each other in person, on a human level. Social science data backs that up: Human beings are happier when we have social connections with each other. But such social connections can only be effective when supported by a common moral framework. Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, points out that diversity in communities doesn't tend to build social fabric unless that diversity is unified by common values; he gives the examples of churches and the military. What are our common values?

We'd better start to figure that out. Even our most basic values are now dividing lines. How about a belief in free speech? Many on the intersectional Left believe that free speech itself is a re-imposition of an unjust hierarchy. Commitment to limited government? Half the country, at the least, wants a far larger government. Belief in the rights of parents? Much of the country wishes to cram down its social values on parents. Even the belief that we live in a free country in which you are capable of changing your life is a controversial proposition.

In 2012, President Obama stated in his second inaugural that "Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness." That may be true on the margins. It's certainly not true in the main: We must agree on what liberty constitutes if we hope to be united under its banner. Absent such agreement, our divisions will only grow worse, with or without President Trump in office.

Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire and host of The Ben Shapiro Show, available on iTunes and syndicated across America.​

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​