By Nate Slate
With each passing week, as we near the presidential election, it becomes more and more apparent that we are a country at odds with each other. Our politics is very angry. If you travel across the country and listen to the political ads, they are very destructive. Ad hominem tactics are the norm. Each candidate depicts the other as a demon. One inflammatory issue after another is used to paint the opposing candidate in the most condemnatory light.
You are left to wonder, following the election, how do we come together. Will we be an evenly divided electorate that is frustrated, angry and resentful?
For many of us, as we grew up, we were taught to believe in America and its institutions. For certain, the Constitution – underpinnings of our democracy – were sacred. For those of us who served in the military, we pledged to support and defend this document. However, in the current America of resentment, not even the Constitution is considered sacred. It would appear that political convenience surmounts even a modicum of allegiance. Even the peaceful transition of power is being challenged. In times past, we accepted that whoever was elected would be, for a time, our president. Today, it is very common to hear: “Not my president.” How can any president (from either party) hope to unify the country in this environment?
Of concern, it appears that the warring parties would like to censor each other. The ad hominem tactics extend to the common citizen. The antipathy makes most Americans afraid to share their true feelings. Thomas Jefferson, during the framing of our republic, said that no American should ever feel afraid to voice their opinion. Following a spirited debate, the parties must continue to respect each other as Americans.
While this seems like a noble and appropriate aim for our system, today, the first attack would be against Thomas Jefferson himself. We are judging our history out of context and then canceling all achievements based upon shortcomings. We are putting American history on trial; and with it, segments of our population. The process magnifies anger and resentment and further divides our nation.
All of this begs the question: What is it that Americans agree upon? There must be qualities that we see in each other that we admire. We seem to be able to accept people all over the world with multifarious beliefs, but we can’t tolerate differences inside our own country. What qualities do we treasure in each other? As we seem to work industriously to tear things down, what is it that we wish to build?
If, as the media depicts, we value dramatically different outcomes – where is the common ground? In a country as diverse as our own, can we compromise, or have we lost all sense of our oneness as a nation? Even the national tragedy of the pandemic failed to bring the country together. The battle between the extremes to be right – the battle of egos – seems to be waged to the death of our national unity.
Are most Americans centrists (moderates), as some say? If so, how did the majority lose control of the country’s dialogue? Are the Americans in the middle simply being manipulated by the extremes in this battle of angry ideology? How do we ensure the centrists – Americans who are prepared to accept other Americans – are represented in discussions dominated by the extremes?
I recommend a commission be formed to create a monograph of American ideals. This commission should be truly diverse – representing every aspect of the ongoing debates. However, members must be selected who are committed to working with others to find common ground. A myriad of questions must be addressed: What do we cherish from our history? What should be our national identity? Do we have sacred values? Can we agree on standards? And, if disagreement is guaranteed, how do we agree to proceed? How do we accept each other and demonstrate our commitment to each other in a heterogeneous society?
Let’s not allow these troubling times to separate us. I believe this process would identify that we have much in common and much to build upon. First and foremost, we must agree to be tolerant of each other. If we cannot find it in our hearts to respect each other, we must at least find the goodwill to interact without enmity. If we cannot find common ground politically as a nation, surely we can find common ground as individual Americans. At the end of the day, we are a diverse population participating in the great American experiment.
Nate Slate is a retired Soldier and community volunteer.