The last paragraph of the column I submitted last week stated, “We have survived many things together: war, depression, Watergate, political rancor and the uncertainty of the future. Together, we will survive the horrible events of last Wednesday. Regardless of political affiliation, let us work together to keep America united and strong.”
I wanted to end last week’s column on that positive note. We are all in this together. Regardless of the rancor demonstrated during the violent protests in Washington D.C., we need to stand together as Americans.
The situation goes well beyond the events of just one day. The chasm that divides our political parties has grown over the decades. The left-wing of the Democratic Party appears to be moving farther left and the right-wing of the Republican Party is edging more to the right.
I really appreciate the words of Theodore Roosevelt. Over 100 years ago, President Roosevelt observed, “This country will not be a good place for any us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”
He’s right. The United States has always been referred to as a melting pot. Immigrants, people of all nations, have combined to make this nation the strongest and best nation in the world. Our differing backgrounds, thoughts, ideals, and values have combined to make us strong.
A recent Pew report was titled, “The Partisan Divide on Political Views Grows Even Wider.” The report details the results of a huge survey about social and political views in America.
The authors noted, “divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental political values … reached record levels during Barack Obama’s presidency. In Donald Trump’s first year as president, these gaps have grown even larger.”
We used to encourage people to “meet in the middle,” to achieve compromise to get things done. Stories are still told about how two of our leaders, who were divided by political ideology – President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill – would meet in the Oval Office after hours to have a few cocktails and talk.
It is said they accomplished more sharing a little bourbon together than they ever did sharing a conference room. The key to their success would appear to be that they were willing to sit respectfully and talk.
As we apparently become more entrenched in the issues that divide us, we would be wise to review the words and wisdom of President Abraham Lincoln. In 1858, as he prepared to run for the Illinois senate seat, he gave his famous speech that started, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Lincoln was specifically talking about the issue of slavery that was literally about to split the nation. It took a war to resolve the issue of slavery.
Sadly, the issues of race still divide people. We can and should pray about that those issues and work to resolve them, but there are numerous other issues that separate Americans.
Nearly a lifetime ago, while still in high school, I was taught that the United States of America is the great melting pot of the world. The meaning of that phrase is that people can come from numerous countries and ethnic backgrounds.
They then combine all that makes them unique with all the millions of others who are unique, and like various ingredients and spices, we come a huge melting pot. We combine who we are individually into something far better than each individual.
It’s like making an excellent stew.
Lately, I have heard people talk about America being less like a melting pot and more like a bowl of salad. In a bowl of salad all the differences are evident. Instead of the parts combining into something even better, in a salad, the flavors and textures remain separate.
The crispness and flavor of each ingredient is still distinct, and they enhance the flavor of the other ingredients.
As a society, that means we do not have to give away who we are, our individual thoughts and values. We can remain distinctly individual, while still adding to the greatness of other citizens. I like that idea.
Disagreement does not mean we that we stand divided. The old saying, “We can disagree without being disagreeable,” is still a valid statement.
We can disagree on issues without resorting to violence. We can disagree on issues and still be united in the love of this country.
Again, as stated before; “We have survived many things together, war, depression, Watergate, political rancor and the uncertainty of the future. Together, we will survive the horrible events of last Wednesday. Regardless of political affiliation, let us work together to keep America united and strong.”
Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.