Post-election, is the U.S. still a nation divided? Oprah Winfrey reports

Eight months into the Trump administration, 60 Minutes travels to Michigan, which played a pivotal role in the election, and takes the pulse of the nation

Last Updated Sep 24, 2017 4:54 PM EDT

Last year's presidential election revealed a nation divided…over the media, popular culture and especially politics. People got their news from different sources, believed different things and watched close friends and family members stop talking over their choice of candidates.

Eight months into the presidency of Donald Trump, we wanted to know if the divide was still as deep and bitter as before, so we traveled to a state that played a pivotal role in the election: Michigan. There, we gathered a diverse group of voters and asked them to lay everything out on the table. The group included a farmer, a drug counselor, a speech therapist, a former GM factory worker and a sales manager. And they all had a lot to say about the state of our union in the early days of the Trump administration.

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In her first report for 60 Minutes, Oprah Winfrey explores the political divide in the U.S.

CBS News

Oprah Winfrey: I want to know from everyone around the table. How do you think Donald Trump is doing as president of the United States today? Tom?

Tom: I love it. Every day I love him more and more. Every single day. I still don't like his attacks, his Twitter attacks, if you will, on other politicians. I don't think that's appropriate. But, at the same time, his actions speak louder than words. And I love what he's doing to this country. Love it.

Oprah Winfrey: Yes, Jennifer?

"I love it. Every day I love [Trump] more and more. Every single day. I still don't like his attacks, his Twitter attacks, if you will, on other politicians. I don't think that's appropriate." Tom

Jennifer: I feel like he's a horrible president. And he's divided our nation more than it has ever been. And then when he's on teleprompter, he's sane, I mean, I'm like, "That's great. That's great. That's a good message." But when he's off teleprompter, I feel uncomfortable. It makes me feel sick to my stomach. And I think that we look like we're a joke to other foreign leaders. It's an embarrassment.

Tim: We are. We are.

Wesley: He's terrible. A president sets the tone and sets the example. It's like a quarterback in a two-minute drill. The quarterback sets the tone. President Trump is not setting the tone.

Lauren: He is setting the tone, just not one that helps the United States, but all he's doing is setting a bad tone.

Wesley: Yeah, yeah he's setting the tone of negativity. Right.

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The conversation took place in a converted power plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

CBS News

Tim: Exactly.

Oprah Winfrey: Matt?

Matt: We wanted somebody to go in and flip tables. We're tired of the status quo, as some people wanted on the other side. We were tired of that.

Oprah Winfrey: In your mind, what table got flipped?

Matt: Every time he does a rally or a tweet, he's speaking for people that are sitting at home in Iowa or Oklahoma or Montana, that just wanna say it that way. For years we asked for a president who would just say it the way we do. We got that.

"He's terrible. A president sets the tone and sets the example. It's like a quarterback in a two-minute drill. The quarterback sets the tone. President Trump is not setting the tone." Wesley

Frank Luntz: Grab a seat there. Grab a seat next to him.

The conversation took place last month in a converted power plant in downtown Grand Rapids, where Frank Luntz, a pioneer in the use of focus groups and a contributor to CBS News, assembled our group…

Frank Luntz: How many of you say we're a divided country? Everyone!

…And paid participants $100 each for taking part.

Frank Luntz: Your friends are gonna see this. And your family is going to see this.

He selected 14 for a seat at the table. Seven voted for President Trump. Seven did not. Half voted the party line. For others, it was more complicated.

Oprah Winfrey: Can you talk about it?

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Jennifer: OK, let me just explain that I've been a Republican my whole life, and I could not support Trump. My whole entire family supported Trump and I got persecuted by my own family. And they, my dad especially, and so he was trying to force me to vote for him.

"We wanted somebody to go in and flip tables. We're tired of the status quo, as some people wanted on the other side. We were tired of that." Matt

Oprah Winfrey: Did you all stop speaking to each other for a while?

Jennifer: For a while. Yeah.

Oprah Winfrey: Because you voted for?

Jennifer: Because I voted for Hillary. And it was a protest vote.

Oprah Winfrey: You were protesting?

Jennifer: I was protesting Trump. I have a 10-year-old and 3-year-old and it scares me every day what their future might be.

Rose: As somebody who, I feel I'm really moderate. I voted for Bush twice. I voted for Obama twice. And I voted for Trump. And part of the reason why is because I gave the Republican establishment a chance. I gave Democratic establishment a chance. And can we please come together and at least give this president a chance, because in my opinion, we're not. We already have preconceived ideas of what he's like.

Oprah Winfrey: Are they preconceived ideas, or does he show us, or tweet to us, or demonstrate through his actions every day who he is?

Rose: Can we give him a chance?

People from this area are as divided as anywhere in the country. But they're known for their Midwestern manners and something locals call "West Michigan nice." A trait we put to the test.

Oprah Winfrey: Can you give me a word or phrase? Describe in your mind the typical Trump voter.

Jennifer: Oh dear.

Jeff: I'm curious, I'm curious what I'm going to be accused of here.

Oprah Winfrey: What's your word Tim?

Tim: I would say angry.

Tom: Frustrated.

Oprah Winfrey: Frustrated.

Jennifer: I would say angry.

Matt: Fed up.

Maggie: Fed up.

Oprah Winfrey: Fed up.

Daniel: Forgotten.

Kailee: Misinformed.

Lauren: I say wounded.

Oprah Winfrey: The typical Trump voter you think is wounded?

Lauren: I think is wounded.

And new wounds were inflicted nearly every time we brought up a contentious issue, starting with the investigation into Russian collusion in the U.S. election, which we introduced by way of a presidential tweet.

Oprah Winfrey: "You are witnessing the single greatest witch hunt in American political history, led by some very bad and conflicted people." He's talking about the Russia investigation. Does that matter to you?

Paul: I don't wanna hear one more word about Russia. That's so over the hill for me. What good is it doing anyone?

Oprah Winfrey: Do you think the Russian investigation is valid?

Voices: No. Yes. No. Yes. No.

Oprah Winfrey: Who here thinks… Who here thinks it's not even valid? Really? OK.

Tim: We had a foreign country attack our country. That is…

Jeff: --you know what, spare us the fake outrage. When you wanna go back--

Tim: It is! That's the truth—

Jeff: We changed regimes in Egypt. We changed regimes in Libya!

Tim: In Libya. We're talking about our shores influencing an election.

Jeff: So it's perfectly acceptable for us…

Rose: He is considered guilty until proven innocent right now, in my opinion. Because where's the crime? Where is the crime? Tell me. Where's the crime?

Kailee: When he fires the FBI director for performing the Russia investigation. That is obstruction of justice. He invited the Russian ambassador into the Oval and said, "The pressure is off." Are you kidding me?

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a young woman was killed at a white supremacist rally, also exposed the divide. We showed the group excerpts from the president's comments about the violence, which were criticized for drawing a moral equivalence between hate groups and those who came to protest them.

Taped voice of President Donald Trump: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.

Laura: Now what's wrong with that?

Paul: I agree with that.

Voice: Oh my gosh.

Kailee: Many sides did not kill that woman.

Tim: He messed up.

Tom: He did not mess up. He was absolutely correct.

Oprah Winfrey: He was absolutely correct?

Tom: That's correct. The KKK wasn't fighting with the KKK. There were two groups.

Oprah Winfrey: OK. I'm not hearing what you're saying. Go ahead.

Rose: He never said there was equivalence, OK. It was the media.

Tom: He condemned both of them.

Oprah Winfrey: When you heard him say that there were both sides and there were many sides. When you heard him use that phrase?

Rose: I saw… I saw both groups of people fighting. I saw actually, I didn't see any African American there, I saw two groups of white guys fighting each other. And I'm going, "OK, he is denouncing all hate, all racism."

Tom: And all violence.

Oprah Winfrey: That's what you saw.

Rose: And all violence. That's what I saw.

Oprah Winfrey: That's what you saw.

Tom: Correct. Absolutely.

Oprah Winfrey: That's what you saw. Does the president's response say anything to you about his moral leadership?

Voices: Yeah. Yes.

Lauren: If we don't fight hate speech, it's a slippery slope to hate crimes. What does it say going out there and saying, "Blood and soil and Jews will not replace us," carrying torches, and reenacting the horrible images of the KKK and pre-civil rights? I fully support that one side was coming up against, boldly coming up against hate speech and hate crimes.

Matt: So to their coming up to fight the First Amendment, you're okay with that?

Lauren: I don't think this is coming up to fight the First Amendment.

Matt: Because when you show up with helmets. It is the First Amendment. What don't you understand?

Lauren: I hear you.

Matt: The First Amendment protects all speech, whether you like it or not.

Kim: There needs to be a limitation on freedom of speech.

Tim: If it incites hate.

Oprah Winfrey: OK, hey, hey, hey, if you're gonna put a limitation on freedom of speech, is that freedom of speech?

Kim: When I say put a limitation on freedom of speech, I'm not sayin' take away their ability to have their say. But when it incites danger and someone getting harmed and hate, there's where the limitation needs to stop at.

Frank Luntz: When you raised Charlottesville, the group broke down. And they, they became tribal. They all retreated to their natural political instincts and it got rough.

Frank Luntz, who put this group together, uses information from sessions like these to help corporations and politicians craft their messages. And he says everyone from local officials to the president of the United States could benefit by listening.

Oprah Winfrey: What do you think Charlottesville did to affect his presidency?

Frank Luntz: Charlottesville says that this president at best is misunderstood and at worst doesn't hear the voices of half of America. And he's gotta listen better. And he has to be more careful with his words.

…And with his tweets, according to the group -- including supporters of President Trump.

Matt: I don't like the tweets.

Oprah Winfrey: But is it modern presidential? Because every president has used some form of media.

Matt: President Obama started with the tweet, with tweeting and the social media platform. It's part of modern technology. The president's gonna use it. The pope uses it. I mean everybody in the world uses Twitter.

Wesley: It's not about using it, it's about how he uses it.

Matt: Absolutely!

Jennifer: You know what? President Obama didn't use it to attack people and bully people.

Oprah Winfrey: Kailee? Kailee?

Kailee: He also didn't use it to announce policy that should be discussed behind closed doors and vetted.

Oprah Winfrey: Specifically, can you pull up the transgender. Let's go to this. "After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military. What did you think of that tweet?

Matt: Bad tweet.

Jennifer: It was horrendous.

Laura: Yeah, he shouldn't have done that.

Oprah Winfrey: Tom?

Tom: I'm too old… I'm too old to be in the military. So and I'd like to serve. Is that ageism?

Kailee: But your argument is exactly what they used when they prevented African Americans and gay people from serving in the military. And we're using it again on this group of people.

Jennifer: Yes.

Matt: No, this is completely different. This is a choice. Nobody chose to be gay or black.

Kailee: They did not choose to feel this way!

Matt: They did choose this!

Kailee: They believe they were born this way!

Jennifer: You do not choose to be a transgender!

Oprah Winfrey: OK. He said bad tweet. He said bad tweet. Bad tweet? Bad tweet?

Jeff: Bad tweet.

Oprah Winfrey: Do conversations like this matter, the conversations that we had last night?

Frank Luntz: Conversations like what happened last night stopped happening in this country more than a year ago when it became dangerous to tell people in the so-called flyover states that you supported Hillary Clinton. When it became dangerous to tell people in New York or L.A. that you supported Donald Trump. They were afraid for their friendships. They were afraid at work. And so we've just stopped talking politics.

Oprah Winfrey: I want to broaden this out a bit. Is there anything that keeps you up at night, cause I'm trying to see what's your life like? What's keeping you up at night?

Tim: I wake up every morning praying to God that I don't get a notification on my phone that says we've nuked North Korea.

Matt: Will this country last? Is this experiment that our founders started going to last? Because my kids, it's not about me, it's my kids and their kids and the next generation. We're all going to be OK.

Lauren: We might not all be OK. And this is the part where I get emotional. What keeps me up at night is that in a week, tomorrow, any moment, this health care thing that a lot of people just want repealed without thinking about the fact that if I wake up tomorrow without health care, my life is over. And so to say, "Repeal Obamacare," and don't replace--

Oprah Winfrey: So tell them just a little bit. You had migraines?

Lauren: I have migraines every single day. Not everybody knows what migraines are like. But if you see somebody rolling around on a tile floor, pulling their hair out, could you see that and take away my health care?

Paul: Why can't we repair Obamacare?

Lauren: Yes! Yes!

Matt: Can I, can I make—a statement?

Oprah Winfrey: OK, OK.

Matt: One statement.

Oprah Winfrey: OK, OK, OK. Did, did you just? Did? Can we just have a moment? Did you hear what she said?

Matt: Yeah, I think it's horrible. I don't want to take away her health care. I want to reform health insurance. And I want to reform the health care cost.

Lauren: That'd be great too. Let's do both.

As our conversation wound down "West Michigan nice" was still largely intact. But many remained apprehensive.

Oprah Winfrey: I want you to look into your crystal ball. And tell me, from your point of view, what the future looks like. By the time of the next presidential election, are we more likely to have come together? Will we have sought common ground?

Laura: Unfortunately, as wonderful as this has been, I think that we're gonna be just as divided. I'm even fearing civil war.

Oprah Winfrey: OK. You all are nodding your head. She says, "I fear a civil war" and you all are nodding your heads?

Jennifer: Yes! We do, I do fear that. I think we're gonna be more divided than ever.

Tim: I'm gonna have to agree. I think we're gonna continue. We're cont-- we're gonna continue on this track.

Oprah Winfrey: Of?

Tim: Of being divided.

Oprah Winfrey: Not hearing each other, being divided--

Tim: Being divided. I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Oprah Winfrey: Really? Yeah, OK go ahead.

Kim: We do not understand each other. And when we're talking, we're talking different languages. And we're not actually listening and understanding each other. And that's causing the divide.

Jennifer: These are crucial conversations that need to be had.

Kailee: And they need to be had in Washington.

Oprah Winfrey: And they need to be had in Washington?

Kailee: In Washington. They need to talk to each other. They need to cross the aisle and they need to do what we sent them there to do.

Paul: We gotta come together and find a way. But I'm hopeful for the future, that we can do that, yes. Just sitting around this table's showing me this tonight. If people will just get a little common sense and settle down a little bit and start talking things out, we can work things out.

After three hours, we moved the conversation to a nearby restaurant, where it continued late into the night. Since then, many members of our focus group have kept talking, both online and in person. Several attended a congressional town hall meeting together. And just last week, five people from our group went to a shooting range to try and understand each others' views on gun rights.

Produced by Graham Messick, Tanya Simon, Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson and Jack Weingart.