I’m guessing many of us can nod in agreement. Guilty as charged. Just look at our Facebook feeds, listen to us on cable TV or try to squirm away from us at parties. Some families can’t even enjoy Thanksgiving dinner without shouting their political differences.
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But then he added this: “… we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times.”
Still nodding? I’m guessing many of us — maybe, one can hope, most of us — are, but a few are swallowing hard and looking the other way. Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump loving their country? Depending on which side of the fence you perch, one or the other could sound absurd beyond belief.
And yet it’s hard to ignore a dying man.
Death seeks no advantage from political angles. It offers no financial reward; makes no promise in hopes of a vote. What those who are dying have done in life must suffice. Time is up. There is no more to do, except perhaps impart a little advice and wisdom.
And so, few things pack the power of a letter written by someone who is dying, especially, perhaps, someone who was an active combatant in the arena.
So we stop, read, pay attention and maybe even nod in agreement. But does anyone think the tenor of our political dialog will change?
Not as long as, for the rest of us, death remains an unfixed point on the horizon and there are advantages to gain.
In many ways, it has always been so. Only those who ignore history would think we have lately invented ugly and hateful politics.
You won’t kick up a lot of dust in the archives finding examples. A little more than a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt was calling President William Howard Taft a “fathead” with “the brains of a pig.” What great fodder for a Facebook meme!
In 1938, an initiative campaign was started in California to grant a publicly funded pension to everyone over 50. A Harvard study said this led to “almost a verbal civil war,” with few people able to discuss its merits rationally.
I grew up knowing elderly people who could not utter Franklin Roosevelt’s name without spitting.
And if you have time for an interesting study in contrasts, read the full-page ad some businessmen bought in the Dallas Morning News on the morning of President Kennedy’s assassination. Describing themselves as “free thinking” and “America-thinking” citizens, they demand the answers to several questions about the administration allegedly being soft on communism.
The only difference between now and then is that we used to hold the smoldering undercurrents beneath a thin crust of order and civility. But now the hot lava of the internet and social media have broken through, calling into question the notion of democracy and leaving us vulnerable to the influences of Russian forces similar to those derided in that 55-year-old anti-Kennedy ad.
A number of attempts have been made to rally the civilized middle. Retired editor and author Morton Kondracke wrote for Politico.com recently that the media is missing the story of how these efforts are succeeding, including Utah’s upcoming ballot measure to turn political redistricting over to an independent panel.
A group calling itself “no labels” has been working to improve cooperation in Washington and push reforms. But they seem to be drowned out by those who would pander to the worst angels of our nature.
I’m not suggesting political principles are unimportant, only that civility, mutual respect and compromise are the avenues to peaceful solutions.
That, apparently, becomes more obvious as death approaches. The trick, then, is to get all 325 million of us opinionated, vociferous people to feel and act as if each day might be our last.