Wineke: Now everyone hates everyone -- welcome to America

So, let's see where we are on the national unity front.

This has never been a country in which everyone loves one another. We are a nation that makes progress through conflict and debate, often taking three steps forward and then two back.

But we have some things that seem to unify us, professional football being one of them.

You can be liberal or conservative, black or white, believer or atheist, fat or thin, it makes no difference: you root for the Packers.

But now, professional football has become a centerpiece of national division. Vice President Mike Pence flew 1,800 miles from Washington, D.C., to Indianapolis over the weekend to attend a game, and then walked out when some of the players knelt rather than stood for the national anthem.

President Donald Trump immediately tweeted that he had asked Pence to do so because the players were “disrespecting our country.”

And, now, the country is in uproar once again.

Or maybe still. It's not that we needed the football controversy to raise our anxiety levels. The president and Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spent the weekend hurling ever more vindictive insults at one another. The secretary of state, apparently, called the president a “moron.” Puerto Rico remains devastated.

I don't know how much influence Russia had on the American elections or how much influence it has in our government, but I'll bet not even the Russian leaders can believe what they read in the morning headlines.

Why Trump and Pence want to exacerbate things is beyond me.

There is a lot of legitimate disagreement about the actions of some athletes in refusing to rise for the national anthem. There is disagreement within the country and within the teams themselves.

The athletes are doing what they do, they say, not because they don't respect the country but because they want to call attention to ways the country isn't living up to its highest ideals.

The controversy has been going on for a year or so, and frankly, not many of us paid too much attention to it until the president decided to make it a national issue by insisting the players -- until then mostly black -- be fired.

Now the vice president is involved. He surely knew what would happen at the game, so he flew on Air Force 2 all the way to Indianapolis just to make a symbolic statement and then get back on his plane.

That does pretty much raise the stakes of the controversy.

The thing is, we expect our national leaders to make efforts to heal the nation's divisions, not cut them deeper.

We have problems facing us that will require national unity. Our leaders are doing all they can to make sure we won't have it.

Vladimir Putin must be happy, but puzzled.

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