What's really wrong with the state of the union

What to watch for in Obama's final State of the Union
What to watch for in Obama's final State of the Union

    JUST WATCHED

    What to watch for in Obama's final State of the Union

MUST WATCH

What to watch for in Obama's final State of the Union 02:11

Story highlights

  • Sally Kohn: The state of America is strong, the state of the union is not. There is no unity, people can't seem to respectfully disagree
  • Both left and right have a role in this, she says, but it's hard to deny the fact-free ideology that seems to guide the right today

Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The state of the union sucks.

I don't mean the state of our nation sucks. To the contrary, it's quite strong and steadily improving. Last year saw the second-highest job growth of the century. Unemployment hit its lowest rate since 2008, when President Barack Obama took office.
To be sure, the gains of the economy are imperfectly shared, but the economy overall is increasingly stable and projected to keep growing.
Yes, the American people are more worried about terrorism and the rise of ISIS, though they are perhaps not as worried as they should be about the mass shootings that happen on average once a day in our country.
Hits and misses from Obama's State of the Union speeches
Hits and misses from Obama's State of the Union speeches

    JUST WATCHED

    Hits and misses from Obama's State of the Union speeches

MUST WATCH

Hits and misses from Obama's State of the Union speeches 02:09
And yes, our nation remains deeply cleaved by race, gender and sexuality: unarmed black men and women continue to be killed with alarming regularity by police, women continue to be paid less than men and too many conservative legislators and judges continue to deny equal dignity and legal protection to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Undocumented immigrants remain persecuted, while bands of armed white "citizen's militias" are allowed to take over federal property unimpeded.
Still, left, right or center, most can agree that the United States of America remains a great nation -- one where tech companies want to reinvent the economy and Syrian refugees want to rebuild their lives.
So, what sucks about the state of our union today? There is no unity.
I don't mean to suggest that once upon a time, left and right held hands in America, sang "Kumbaya" and braided each others' hair while passing sweeping bipartisan legislation for the good of all.
Incivility is, after all, nothing new in American politics: In 1796, Thomas Paine called George Washington a cold hermaphrodite -- which, believe me, was quite the insult back then. And less than a decade later, Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed his political rival Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
But our politicians today don't get a pass for their incivility because it doesn't come down to shooting each other.
The State of the Union Address as a Wes Anderson film
The State of the Union Address as a Wes Anderson film

    JUST WATCHED

    The State of the Union Address as a Wes Anderson film

MUST WATCH

The State of the Union Address as a Wes Anderson film 03:51
Shouldn't we be evolving as human beings? I have to imagine that even those who don't believe in evolution still generally believe that human beings today know more than our peers of a century ago. Or at least we can ask Siri.
And yet in our hyperpolarization, not only does it seem we're increasingly unwilling to listen to the other side's arguments, but we don't even acknowledge the same basic facts.
As of September 15, 2015, 19% of Republicans still believe Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States and fully 43% of Republicans still believe that Obama is a Muslim. Another 25% of Republicans either had no opinion or said the President is not religious. Think about that.
Forget debates about climate change or the unemployment rate or the positive effect of immigration on wages -- the vast majority of Republican voters can't even on the basic fact that President Obama is a Christian (despite, among other things, the very public partisan attacks against the Obama's pastor during the 2008 campaign).
Sen. Ted Cruz on State of The Union: Part 1
SOTU Tapper: Sen. Ted Cruz  Part 1_00022418

    JUST WATCHED

    Sen. Ted Cruz on State of The Union: Part 1

MUST WATCH

Sen. Ted Cruz on State of The Union: Part 1 09:19
Donald Trump has not only capitalized on this fact-free Republican mindset but fueled it with his repeated proclivity for downright lies -- from claiming to have seen a video of Muslims in New Jersey cheering after September 11th to spreading rumors about Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president. Trump has turned factlessness into a fan base.
Both sides are at least partly to blame.
So many of us have lost the ability to talk openly and respectfully with those we disagree with --often because of the ideological crowds we travel in or because of where we live. And the effect is amplified or even encouraged by Balkanized and vitriolic social media.
Instead of seeing each other as simply "folks who have a different approach to solving common problems," I've heard too many of my liberal friends write off conservatives as downright stupid. One would think those who think themselves more intelligent would see how simplistic and unenlightened it is to be so condescending.
At the same time, while liberals are often guilty of implicit and unexamined biases, the willingness of conservatives to not only proclaim such flagrant biases, but propose policies based on them is breathtaking.
Whether supporting anti-Muslim positions (despite the fact that American terror plots have been foiled by Muslim informants) or anti-immigrant positions more broadly (despite the fact that immigration is good for the economy), conservatives have become troublingly reactionary. Were they always?
Denis McDonough on State of the Union: Full Interview
Denis McDonough on State of the Union: Full Interview

    JUST WATCHED

    Denis McDonough on State of the Union: Full Interview

MUST WATCH

Denis McDonough on State of the Union: Full Interview 10:12
Again, I don't think it's necessary to say that the way Republicans tend to blame the black community for violence and poverty was worse in the 1980s than now, or that conservative homophobia was worse in the 1990s than today. Who cares?
The point is that while liberals treating some minority groups in America as "the other" tends to come from a place of sanctimonious condescension, that kind of "otherizing" from conservatives seems rooted in a fundamental desire to cut certain groups of people out of the American project.
It's paradoxical and even perverse that those who call themselves "patriots" -- from the tea party to the armed militia in Oregon -- are in fact undermining the very notion of our nationhood and our patriotic values through demagoguery while demonizing everyone who is not them.
Our nation is strong and getting stronger. Immigrants and citizens and Muslims and Christians and women and men and gay and straight, altogether, work hard every day to make America work better and better for all of us.
That is the promise and power of our union, our United States of America.
Those values of equal opportunity and shared prosperity for all are not threatened by any terrorist group or economic crash but by how we treat each other and whether we uphold that foundational promise for each other today and for future Americans tomorrow.
And the state of that union is very, very weak.