Irrational Hyperbole and Contempt vs. Reason and Respect

Regardless of your political persuasion, there has been no shortage of ironic hypocrisy, hostility, cynical sniping, sarcastic smugness, labeling, hate speak and irrational hyperbole over the last several months leading up to the presidential election.
Comedians and political pundits have made careers out of it and we all have friends and family who are terrific at slicing and dicing the politics of today.

Sometimes it feels good to be snarky in your observations of those you have differences of opinion and it can surely feel more safe to remain insulated in your world-view bubble.

It isn’t likely this type of behavior is going to end any time soon. After all, it is a traditional aspect of free speech in our country.

That being said, the toxicity has reached dangerous levels that do not suggest anything but more bitter differences for the near future, and that is troubling as we wrestle with finding our way toward a future we can all be proud of in this great country.

Keeping an open mind with people who seem closed to your views is extremely difficult to do and treating others with respect while they hold your views or even you in contempt requires superhuman patience and tolerance. Nonetheless, this is what we need to strive for if we are going to find a path to civility and productivity. The recent presidential campaign did more than expose an already existing divide between two Americas occupying the same land. It drove a wedge into our common ground, separating parents from children, wives from husbands, rural folk from urban folk, people who have college degrees and people who don’t.

Era of toxic rhetoric

In the 1960s, the generations were split by diverging opinions concerning the war in Vietnam, civil rights, popular music and other issues of a society in transformation. But we’d have to go back to the 1860s to find an era when the rhetoric was so pervasively toxic.

Abraham Lincoln saw the storm gathering as he delivered his first inaugural address in January 1861. Even as the newly formed Confederate States of America gathered its troops, the new president pleaded for restraint in word, thought and deed:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

It is tragic that his words fell on deaf ears. Within three months, Americans marched to war against each other. More than 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War and more than a million were injured before it ended.

No one expects the social divisions of our day will lead to massive death and destruction on this scale. But I’m not alone in thinking the fabric of American society has been torn in ways that won’t be easy to mend.

Nevertheless, we must try.

We can begin by reminding ourselves we are all sisters and brothers of the American republic. Wherever we come from, whenever we got here, whatever we believe, we share a common history of devotion to a common ideal of a nation dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and our government is created by the people and for the people.

Mother Teresa, now known as Saint Teresa, wasn’t an American, but she knew the score when she said: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

As Union members and Americans, we must never forget we belong to each other. We must always try to reach into our own hearts and find the “better angels of our nature.”

We can disagree strongly with others’ opinions, but we must never, ever treat each other with contempt. We must pull back from words of hate and choose instead the words of love.

I would like to end this column by wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season and a new year filled with joy and brotherhood (and sisterhood). Thank you for all of your work in making our Union stronger, and thank you for proving to the world, time and time again…

Solidarity Works!