by Xinhua writers Gao Shan, Zhou Xiaozheng, Xu Jianmei
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- In 2017, the United States became so divided that there seemed to be two Americas fighting each other, with no hope to win for either side and no easy compromises in sight.
With little common ground in perception of reality, Americans quarreled on Capitol Hill, clashed on streets, and vilified one another on social media.
EXIT FROM GLOBAL BODIES
As wildfires charred huge swaths in California, Governor Jerry Brown said climate change has pushed California's weather to dangerous extremes, exacerbating the statewide drought. Western states would have to gear up for constant wildfire threats, he said, calling the situation the "new normal."
Brown criticized the Trump administration's denial that climate change was impacting countries adversely. "It's a time to do more, not less," he said.
However, to promote his "America First" policy, President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from several major international institutions and agreements. These included the Paris accord on climate change mitigation, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
He also threatened to pull out from a number of other deals and organizations, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, and even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"We have withdrawn from the job-killing deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and (the) very expensive and unfair Paris Climate Accord," Trump said in a speech on his new national security strategy earlier this month.
The decisions drew widespread criticism and created a serious divide among Americans.
While conservative groups view the Paris accord as a drag on the U.S. economy and domestic energy production that is leading to job losses, others say Trump's inward-looking foreign policies could lead to a decline in U.S. leadership and influence worldwide.
Many also slammed the withdrawals as utter disregard for the international collaboration to cope with global challenges.
In response to the withdrawal, the governors of 15 states formed the United States Climate Alliance, pledging to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as per the goals set by the climate deal.
"Since World War II, America has been a benevolent world leader, driven (in) equal parts (by) altruism and self-interest. But under Trump's short-sighted 'America First' policy, altruism is out the window and the effects are disastrous," Kenneth Kubernik, a Los Angeles-based historian, told Xinhua.
WIDE RACE DIVIDE
Today, the statue of General Robert E. Lee, a pro-slavery general in the American Civil War, in Charlottesville, Virginia, stands wrapped in what looks like a giant black trash bag.
But in August, this was the site where a white supremacist rally turned violent, leaving one person dead and 19 others injured.
"I'm in favor of the statue's going away and being put in a museum or some place where there can be more context provided about the history," Mike Callahan, a 37-year-old local, told Xinhua earlier this month.
However, not everyone supports the statue's removal. Callahan said he is bothered by "a lack of dialogue among people."
"I think what happened here is a reflection of deepening divisions within our society," he said. "There's a lot of people who don't feel really connected to other people in our society and feel isolated."
Callahan's remarks were confirmed by the polls asking if "pro-slavery" Confederate monuments should be removed. One survey had 71 percent of Democrat respondents supporting the move, while 87 percent of Republican respondents disagreed.
There were other divisive issues, including the police shootings of unarmed black men and the "kneeling protests" by many National Football League players during the national anthem to protest racial inequality.
Over 75 percent African-Americans think racial minorities are under attack in the United States, according to a Winthrop University survey released last month.
Both African-Americans and white Americans said they felt a general uneasiness about their safety and status in society, with 46 percent of whites living in the 11 southern states agreeing that white people are under attack.
As for the economy, 63 percent of African-Americans said their financial situation was getting worse. While 61 percent of white respondents said everyone in the country has equal opportunities as long as they work hard, over 60 percent of African-Americans disagreed.
"Hatred came to the city in the name of that statue, but the statue itself is not the cause of the hatred," said Michael Croan, who works in Charlottesville. "A removal of the monument doesn't remove the hatred from those people's hearts. ... There's a lot more work to be done.
CLASH ON IMMIGRATION POLICY
"America is losing many very skilled workers because of its anti-immigrant sentiment," a reader wrote in the New York Times in November, expressing her frustration. "While this is a disappointing blow to me and my classmates, it will also be a blow to the United States' competitiveness in the global economy. Tech giants such as Google and Tesla were founded by immigrants."
The author of the letter, an MBA graduate from Stanford who had planned to stay in Silicon Valley to help start a company, was forced to leave the United States after being denied an H-1B visa, which would have granted her the status of a foreign worker.
"Is anyone good enough for an H-1B visa?" she asked. "I can't make sense of why an administration that claims to want this country to be strong would be so eager to get rid of us. We are losing our dreams, and America is losing the value we bring."
The letter sparked a lot of controversy. Some commentators expressed regret and sympathy, noting that the U.S., in every phase of its development, was built by the spirit and drive of immigrants. Others argued that America has enough people with talent and citizens are losing jobs to immigrants.8 Trump's controversial policies to put a travel ban on citizens of some Muslim-majority nations, scrap the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program shielding immigrants who came to the country illegally as children from deportation, and withdraw from the global migration compact, a UN-led process toward safe, orderly and regular migration, sparked protests across the country.
While supporters cheered the tough immigration policy, citing national security concerns and exulting that American jobs would not be lost to immigrants, others slammed it as discriminatory. The ban is being challenged in several U.S. courts, further dividing the nation.
At least 19 states and the District of Columbia have filed lawsuits against the decision to end the DACA program. California has filed an injunction to thwart the Trump administration's plan to build the controversial wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
GUN CONTROL DEBATE
A church in the small town of Sutherland Springs in the southern state of Texas witnessed a massacre on Nov. 5, as a gunman killed 26 worshippers.
"There are too many guns and a lot of people maybe shouldn't have guns," said a Texan, giving her name only as Aurora.
However, many Americans think guns should not be subject to regulatory control. < "I think a gun is a necessary thing for the right people. The wrong kind of people get hold of guns and that's when these incidents happen," said Johnnie Langendorff, the man hailed as a hero by local residents and the U.S. media after he chased the gunman.
According to 2017 data by the Gun Violence Archive, as of Dec. 20, a total of 14,972 people were killed and 30,253 were injured in 59,314 gun-related incidents in the United States.
Part of the ongoing argument is whether mass shootings are a "gun issue" or a "mental health issue," with Democrats siding with the former argument and Republicans clinging to the latter. Much of the American public is split between these two opinions.
The right to bear arms, as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, is seen as sacred by many Americans. Some firearms advocates are opposed to even the most basic gun control legislation, viewing it as a slippery slope that would eventually result in an infringement of their constitutional rights.
Others, however, view measures such as stricter background checks as logical as they could prevent those with a history of violence or mental illness from obtaining firearms. Gun control advocates also believe that assault weapons should either be banned or face far stricter regulatory restrictions.
"If the killing of all those innocent people in (the) church in Texas, if the killing of all those people in Las Vegas does not move Congress to put some limits on gun ownership, I don't know what will," Dr. Joseph Carl Hough, former interim president of Claremont Graduate University, told Xinhua.
A NATION POLARIZED
While conceding that disagreements are normal and to be expected, social commentators are concerned that discord has reached a point where it is polarizing the nation.
"Hate gets amplified online. Because social media tends to be insular, it funnels us into 'echo chambers' of people and organizations who agree with us and think like we do. We don't really hear dissenting opinions anymore ... And so it escalates," Dr. Nevitt Reesor, a philosophy lecturer at Texas University, said.
Stanley Rosen, a professor of the University of Southern California, said whether Americans can settle their differences in the future is a complex question that cannot be easily answered.
"We all hope so, but no one really knows," he said.