In the constant upheaval that is the Trump presidency and our current political environment I fear we are rapidly losing sight of a core foundation that keeps our nation and our culture functioning. Trump’s firing of James Comey, and the ensuing conversations and coverage have thrown this into sharp relief.
Some say we’ve long since abandoned any shared foundations.
My friends on the cultural right argue that our culture is now fully owned and operated by secular humanists, atheists and progressives and therefore shared foundations are impossible. My friends on the political right argue that Obama and progressives did so much damage to the institutions and our standing in the world and that progressive governing philosophy is so wrong that shared foundations are impossible.
My friends on the cultural left often come from such condescension toward any opposing ideas that challenge their “orthodoxy” while arguing that any traditional values must be bigoted so there cannot possibly be shared foundations. My friends on the political left are so obsessed with #TheResistance and further left-trending progressive policies that unless and until Trump is ousted or Congress #flipped, they see no hope for any shared foundations, even if they are interested in finding common ground.
All is war. All is polarization. All is defined in terms of friends and enemies. Enemies are meant to be defeated. That is their only purpose unless you’re a war-monger, in which case they also serve as a handy profit-generator.
I reject all of this.
Of course people way smarter than me have made these cases and I accept that there are many who truly feel there is no hope for shared foundations in our governing going forward. Their actions indicate they believe their best course of action is to fight for their tribe and gain as much territory as possible.
But it is this sort of tribal thinking that we have seen wreck civilizations throughout history. The great American experiment is unique in so many ways but one of the most unique attributes is this voluntary setting aside of certain tribal priorities and desires for a shared greater good. We dare not dismiss these strong tribal divisions. They are deepening, not healing.
But I submit that the same simple foundation that birthed our nation, that barely, but ultimately, held us together through the Civil War, that drew us together in the face of clear evil in World War II and have allowed us to endure through so much more – I contend that this foundation remains in place. It’s just getting shouted out and crowded out by a deafening cacophony of warring voices.
E Pluribus Unum.
This shared foundation has been our motto from the earliest days. It’s an incredibly unique goal for governing, rarely successful throughout human history. It’s built around the simple truth that there is strength in unity, so we should seek it. Unity does not require agreement in all things. That is impossible. Unity is strongest, in fact, when it is diverse. Real unity is a setting aside of some disagreements and distinctions to rally around a central vision. This is the hard work of democracy.
A political renaissance is brewing as a new center is quietly but certainly emerging. Not a squishy middle full of “moderates” and “problem solvers.” That will never have the needed strength to endure and enact real change. No, we need the messy, difficult and ultimately much stronger unity found when we can both fight for what we believe in and have the wisdom and humility to know when to lay down our tribal priorities for the greater good – for the good of the whole and not only ourselves.
Out of many, one. Although diverse, united.
So to our elected officials I say: sit down together – together – and find our shared values, then work on those first. Right now, you’re starting with the pluribus. Start with the unum. But don’t you dare give up your principles. You can do both. It’s hard. But it’s your job. Do it.
To those with whom I disagree politically I say: Let’s talk. I enjoy coffee, beer and water so surely we can start over one of those three. I want to hear your point of view. I want you to listen to mine. We won’t agree on everything. That’s ok. I want to find common ground and work on those things first.
To my fellow political professionals I say: Stop being war-mongers. Everyone else is not your enemy and your tactics are not uniting, they are dividing. We can be a part of the problem or the solution. Don’t stop fighting for what you believe in, just stop framing everything as war. The Art of War should not be the consultant’s handbook anymore.
To all my fellow Americans I say: Don’t give up on the great American Experiment. It would be easiest to stay in our comfortable tribal villages with people who will reinforce and protect us. That will not make us stronger as a nation. We must re-engage in the hard work of democracy.
Revolution and renaissance need not come only from the fringes. The radical center is rising. E Pluribus Unum.