I remember growing up in the 1980s when our neighbors’ political affiliation was a complete mystery.
At least it was to me, a teenager who was more interested in finding a local sandlot game or pickup basketball game at one of the courts in my very pleasant, lower-middle to middle class, Northeastern Kentucky neighborhood.
Those were the days before America’s political parties drew the lines so sharply. The days before opinion programs on 24-hour news channels pitted Americans against each other. The days before social media ripped the decorum right out of us and turned us into something much less sophisticated.
I miss those days.
But more importantly, I wonder if we can ever get back to that place, or at least to a place closer to it than this angry, bitter, divided and, yes, dangerous climate we find ourselves in now.
Can we ever stand united again?
Well, that depends. It depends on the president, Congress, and most importantly, the citizens of the United States. It would be an interesting exercise to ask Americans what would need to happen for the United States to retreat from the vitriolic discourse of today back to a more civil, thoughtful and objective place that now seems so far away.
It might be a president who does the unthinkable and appoints members of the opposite party to a cabinet position or two, or something equally as bold that shows our government’s wherewithal should not be constrained by making personnel choices from a pool of less than half the population.
Perhaps it would be a president with the wisdom to understand that just because an election was won doesn’t mean it has to provide him an inflexible responsibility to carry out every aspect of his party’s agenda. Elections do in fact have consequences, but to point it out and use that as justification for not finding compromise on our most pressing issues not only prevents the public from rallying around a president, but actually pushes people further apart.
Perhaps it would be a U.S. Congress that might, well, never mind.
The truth is, it is a stretch to think that the people in the most powerful positions in the nation, influenced by the most powerful political lobbies in the nation, will ever take actions to prioritize uniting the country ahead of the interests of their particular parties. It is truly a shame that some of the best work that occurs in the nation’s capital is overshadowed by the partisan fighting that defines and dominates today’s American politics.
No, the uniting of these United States can’t be left up to them. They are incapable of it, so it’s on us.
I once told a person running for local office that the best local elected officials are the ones citizens can’t even identify as a Republican or a Democrat. After all, if someone takes steps to fix the potholes on your road, do you really care if it is a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or someone from outer space?
The same can be true for local housing, local transportation, technological divides, economic development, local education, and on and on. Americans don’t have to agree – or even talk about – abortion or immigration or other red button issues that are distractions to actually improving our communities and our country.
American citizens need to rise to the occasion to find common interests and work collaboratively at home to make the most impact on improving the quality of life for neighbors and ourselves. Nobody stops to ask a needy family which way they vote when assistance is provided to them and nobody stops to ask what political affiliation a person is who is doing the helping. When a vehicle accident occurs on the road, nobody checks political bumper stickers first before making sure everyone is OK.
Our differences in those instances are, believe it or not, absent. They are absent in every neighborhood from California to Texas to Florida to Michigan to New York to Northeastern Kentucky and Southern Ohio.
So despite our leaders’ inability to bring this nation together, we can all strive for moments like those at home and recognize that our division should not and cannot drape the true character, compassion and capabilities of the people of the United States of America.
Copyright 2020 Rick Greene. Greene is an award-winning columnist and editorial writer, and the editor and publisher of Southern Ohio Today. Green can be reached at [email protected]