This country's been through some tough times, but if there's one thing we could always fall back on, it was that -- no matter how fiercely we disagreed -- we were always united where it counted: as Americans. But in a day and age when common ground is shrinking by the day, even our identity is being tested. We've watched consensus issues turn contentious almost overnight. We've seen values that always seemed to rise above the partisan tags turn factious. And suddenly, not even our biggest accomplishments as a nation are worth setting aside our differences and celebrating together.
As fractured as this country may be, most people never thought they'd see the day when we couldn't set aside politics long enough to cheer the return of our own. But in a nation as unraveled by animus as ours seems to be, even the triumphant return of American hostages is cause for backbiting and revenge. When the James C. Foley Foundation was choosing its honoree for this year's American Hostage Freedom Award, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a natural choice. After all, he and the president has brought home more prisoners in two years than any administration in modern history. In just a half-term, 20 people -- including 17 Americans -- are free because of this president and his team.
Whether it was Pastor Andrew Brunson (who I had the privilege of escorting home), Mormon missionaries, UCLA basketball players, or U.S. aid workers, the White House has made it clear: it will leave no American behind. Very honestly, Trump's success on the hostage front is everyone's success. And yet, the media just can't stand the idea of giving credit where credit is due. So, they played hardball. If the Foleys went through with the award, they threatened, the press -- including keynote speaker and CNN anchor Christiana Amanpour -- would boycott.
Just as suddenly as Pompeo's name appeared on the website for Tuesday's event, it was gone. In his place, the Foundation announced a new honoree: Obama-era diplomat Brett McGurk, whose administration released fewer hostages in eight years than President Trump has in two. And the current president managed it, Marc Thiessen reminds everyone, "without setting Taliban leaders loose from Guantanamo Bay, or sending wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies to Iran on an unmarked cargo plane -- which only creates incentives for criminal regimes to seize Americans."
But, Thiessen fumed in the Washington Post, this is how ridiculous the "Trump Derangement Syndrome" has gotten. Even America's top diplomat is too radioactive for recognition. "I understand that there are people who deeply dislike Trump... But this president and his administration has made freeing Americans held abroad a top priority... and they have had unprecedented success in getting them released." It's "pathetic," he argued, that liberals can't even bring themselves to sit quietly and acknowledge the work that's been done.
In a gracious letter to the Foleys, Secretary Pompeo lamented that anyone would bully them into this position. "How sad is it that base politics and hatred have been allowed to creep into even this sphere of our national activity?" he wrote. "The safe recovery of Americans held hostage overseas should be beyond politics and must enjoy the support of all Americans. I regret that pressure of such a cynical and abominable nature was brought to bear on you and John." Regardless, he promised, "the ignoble conduct of those behind this sad deed will never diminish my commitment, or the commitment of the men and women I lead, to the safe recovery of all Americans unjustly held abroad."
There was a time, not too long ago, when our country knew how to set aside their differences when it mattered. When there was a basic respect for the office of our leaders. Now, suddenly, everything is reduced to political blood sport. "The return of hostages isn't partisan," Pompeo insisted. "It's not political. This is an American activity. We worked with Democrat members of Congress on this."
If our nation is going to survive this storm, then there have to be some shared experiences and triumphs that transcend politics. The media can hate President Trump, but they can never take away what he's done for our country. As for Mike Pompeo, he's a patriot, a veteran, and a man of principle who's earned America's respect. If the press wants to take out its grudge against the administration on him, let me be the first to warn them: they've picked the wrong fight.
For more, check out my latest FoxNews.com column where I explain why Secretary Pompeo's faith is not a liability but an asset.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.