My wife and I did our civic duty Thursday, staying up until way past our bedtime to hear the Republican National Convention speech from Donald Trump. It made us wonder if we live in the same country as the people in that convention hall, and how it is that they developed such a hostile view of their fellow Americans.

The speech was the darkest and most angry representation of America that I’d seen since the last time a presidential candidate appealed to America’s fears by promising “law and order.” But even that candidate, Richard Nixon, tempered his speech with some appreciation for America’s strengths, history and future.

Trump’s world seemed full of villains and corruption, evil politicians, cheaters, enemies and scapegoats. A place where people are raging to the point of reddened faces. In that world, the economy hasn’t been improving, it’s been declining. We’re beset by demons. People who don’t look like us are scheming, untrustworthy and evil.

And the only thing that matters in the world is us.

At many moments in Trump’s speech, we couldn’t recognize the country that he was describing. We appreciate the problems in Maine and around the country, with a changing economy, immigration, racial and cultural integration and the environment. But as any student of American history knows, our problems today are mole hills against the mountains we’ve faced in the past. With technologies upending our economy. Disease and war. Slavery. A civil war. Robber barons. The Great Depression. The threat to our existence from World War II. Air and water pollution. And even ideological enemies determined to destroy us.

The speech raised, for me, the question of whether a majority of American voters are really angry enough for Donald Trump. It also raised the question of whether we’re becoming a place where celebrity is more important than content and character. Where we’re coming to idolize the greed and excess showcased in magazine racks at the checkout counters.

Where is our pride in a country of high ideals and tolerance, a melting pot of many into one and a place where dreams are born? When did we stop being a problem-solving and optimistic place where we struggle through challenges and change, constantly moving toward a better future? Where despite our disagreements reasonable people and doers find ways to work together to improve our lives, our communities and the nation.

So far, through all of the challenges in this nation’s life, we’ve mostly managed to avoid losing our minds to fear and anger. And we’ve avoided the periodic temptation to install a “strong man” with dictatorial inclinations that would undermine the foundations of our democratic constitution.

Trump’s premise is that the majority of Americans are ready for the kind of angry revolution he represents. If he’s right, America is in for one of its most divisive convulsions since the Civil War of 1861. His case wasn’t proved by the primary elections, where he faced a multitude of relatively weak candidates who dutifully split up the disgruntled-but-not-enraged vote, giving him a clear path to the nomination. And it wasn’t proved in the recent convention, which had multiple undercurrents of division.

National polling offers mixed signals. There’s no question that most Americans are doing better, economically, than they were in the depths of the Great Recession. We have fewer men and women in combat. The stock market is way up. Consumer confidence and purchasing has returned to pre-recession levels. And we’re slowly rebuilding manufacturing in America.

On the flip side, barely a quarter of Americans feel the country is moving in the right direction, even while slightly more than half give President Barack Obama positive grades. Faith in the future to produce a better life for the next generation is as low as its ever been, and that’s particularly so among younger Americans who are that generation.

There is clearly some real anger in the country, which was picked up by both Trump and Sanders. Young people are saddled with debt, dead-end jobs and a heating planet. Working class men, in particular, have enjoyed a half century of middle class life without a college education. It’s a world that is now disappearing before their eyes. And Trump was busy, in his speech, trying to unite those two segments of America into a winning coalition.

The November election will define who we are, as a nation, and where we’re headed. But it won’t remove the challenges and stresses we’re experiencing. That’s something we’ll all need to keep working on, together. No amount of angry politics can change that.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

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