Do we as Americans no longer expect a U.S. president to rise above partisanship to speak from and to the nation as a whole? It seems to me there are two fundamental responsibilities of the presidential office—to serve as head of the executive branch of government and head of state. The first involves handling the managerial and policy challenges of running the executive branch. The second has to do with the good of our nation—the need to rise above factionalism, about our capacity to feel a part of a whole that’s larger than ourselves.
On the campaign trail, at fundraisers, in private sessions with members of Congress, a president acts and speaks as the head of his party, pushing its agenda, seeking partisan advantage, and doing battle with members of the other party. In these capacities, the president is a political actor.
But in addressing the nation in a time of crisis, delivering the State of the Union speech to the country, meeting with foreign counterparts privately, the president speaks differently. In these settings, he is the head of state, using his powers to do what is best for the political community as a whole, not just the parts represented by his own party.
This is part of the job that Trump is incapable of performing. Instead of aspiring to unity, he exudes divisiveness and provokes antagonism. Instead of binding our nation together with his words, his constant vitriol tears it apart.