This is the sort of partisanship we should expect from the White House. But it is not what we get, and the downstream effects on politics are enormous. When a president or his senior advisers suggest that the opposition is disloyal or un-American, they alienate the opposition, leaving the latter to feel as though the government does not represent them. That happened to liberals during the Bush years, and it is happening to conservatives now.

Maybe the problem comes down to a disjuncture in our system of government. The 20th century saw an enormous increase in the diversity of the nation, as immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe arrived in America, African Americans finally earned the right to vote, and most recently immigrants from Asia and Central America became part of the national fabric. The increasing diversity suggests that it is actually Congress that should be the avatar of the national will. Congress is cacophonous, disagreeable, and often indecisive. This is no doubt frustrating, but it also happens to be a fairly good representation of the body politic itself.

Yet our politics has trended in the opposite direction—toward concentration of power in the executive office, with the president increasingly becoming the focal point of all public affairs. Our nation began with a Whiggish view of the presidential office and a decided emphasis on Congress as the main agent in the government. But since the Progressive Era, we have drifted toward a view reminiscent of the Stuart monarchs that the Whigs dispatched in the Glorious Revolution: The president should be an all-powerful, unrivaled advocate of the general welfare.

Is it any wonder that our political discourse is so dysfunctional? A single person cannot possibly embody the nation as a whole, yet our expectation is for the president to do exactly that. Should we be surprised that presidents insist upon a singular view of America that aggravates and alienates the half of the country that does not share it?