The happiest place on earth is now the center of American polarization

The State of the Union, like others before it, will feature the customary scripted and on-demand ovations, the splitscreen of those who stand and those who sit, the fiery red and livid blue displayed on the House floor. Even my former colleague, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), searched his soul last year but decided not to camp out on an aisle seat for hours in order to shake President Trump’s hand on live television.

But the real sign of a nation polarized is 863 miles away, in Walt Disney World, in Florida. The happiest place on earth has a new and ugly battleground: the Hall of Presidents. There, to music that stirs the soul of patriots, presidential audio-animatronics are recognized individually. Warm stage lighting bathes their silicon rubber skin and they gesture via software and control cylinders. Even such barely remembered former chief executives as Millard Fillmore, John Tyler and Chester Arthur command the reverence of the audience.

{mosads}Recently, however, there have been reported outbursts involving the Barack Obama and Donald Trump robots. A friend told me that when she took her two young children to the exhibition, there were cheers for Obama, followed by a chorus of hisses and boos. Then, cheers for Trump, triggering boos and hisses.


A YouTube video confirms another instance, when a protester chants “lock him up, lock him up,” as the Trump figure is recognized. The good news is that the robot is unable to shout “get him outta here!” and then tweet something inappropriate. The bad news is that a harried Disney World “cast member” — whose greatest worry up to that point was probably three-year-old who ate too much cotton candy vomiting in an aisle — is now a referee in a political protest in the hallowed Hall of Presidents.

What next? Deportations of the puppets featured in “It’s A Small World?” The “Jungle Cruise But Not To Shithole Countries?” “Dumbo The Flying Elephant Versus Wiseass The Donkey?” A police perimeter protecting the whirling saucers on “The Mad Tea Party?”

Yes, we are divided. But when our partisan passions seep past the gates to Walt Disney World, engulf the quaint facades of Main Street and burst into the Hall of Presidents, it’s beyond a divide. It’s more like a hemorrhaging of the simple values that kept us whole. It’s an infection.

What’s happening in Disney World is an important and often overlooked symptom of today’s “American anger.” It’s not just an economy that’s changing radically — automation, globalization, migration — and not just the sense that democracy has been sold to the highest bidder.


It’s also that the institutions in which we once sought solace have themselves been corroded. Sports has been tainted by drug abuse, the church by sexual scandal, the news media by our president. Now, you can’t even escape to Disney World. Now, even robots divide and disappoint us.

At the State of the Union, there is a line between ideologies, a border that typically meanders to the left or right of the center aisle that the president walks down until he reaches the rostrum. Now, however, that line extends almost everywhere. Even our football fields.

I used to describe Congress as “Disney World,” a place of false facades and suspended beliefs. But when Disney World starts resembling Congress, America is in deeper trouble than we thought, requiring a president who can bring us not to our feet, but to common ground.

But maybe I’m living in Fantasyland.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. His next novel, “Big Guns,” will be published in April 2018.

Tags Barack Obama Congress Donald Trump Eliot Engel Look Ahead: SOTU 2018 Politics Steve Israel

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