While political historians could inevitably trace our current problems as a nation back to roughly the day that the Republican Cavemen walked out of that meeting with the Democratic Hunter-Gatherers, recent history seems to give several insights into which the neither the media nor the talk shows seem to explore very deeplly.
1. The drastic swing in the popularity of Bush-41 after the first Gulf War. The U.S. was very united in the first war to free Kuwait and restore order to the world. As the election neared, popular talk shifted from the war to domestic issues. Many conservatives blamed the media, especially CNN at the time, for getting Clinton elected. Certainly the media had shown bias before, but a new era had begun.
2. Terrorism in the 90's. Terrorism and the way that the U.S. dealt with the Somalian problems, the bombing of the WTC, and the bombing of the USS Cole gave reasons for the nation to be viewed as soft on terrorism. No one on either side of the fence really viewed the possibilities with the kind of seriousness that we now realize was needed. America's lack of clear resolution in the 90's eventually led to lots of finger-pointing after 9/11.
3. The impeachment of Clinton. The entire affair stands as a black mark on America's history. The embarassment to the office of president and the division that the entire mess created were both harmful. Whether or not you believe Clinton should have been impeached, you have to agree that the matter and the distraction that the hearings and investigations created are something that weakened our country and divided us further down the aisle.
4. The Bush-Gore election fiasco. The arguments that continued and the attitudes that followed by those who thought that Bush was not legitimately elected have further divided the country into two parts.
5. The spin on terrorism and Iraq. Following one of the worst and yet most unifying events to ever occur in 9/11, the factions have created two Americas (if I may borrow that terminology): One America that is resolute in taking the necessary measures to fight terrorism and protect ourselves, and one America that wants to downplay the war on terror to something secondary.
6. The gap between Bush and Kerry. The extreme differences between these two candidates also produces extreme feelings by people who realize the implications of the election.