Few Americans in any of today’s deeply entrenched political camps will miss the insults and verbal body slams that have marked this political season.
Such political games have always been a U.S. pastime. Theodore White, in “The Making of the President 1968,” recalls another, similarly divided era: “There is always something ridiculous about American politicians doing their business – their posturings, their dialogues, their threadbare rhetoric are all too familiar.”
Some things don’t change.
White nevertheless expressed hope: “In a world of rigid political orthodoxies, of states cramped by dogma, America, in all its confusion, still offered choices, still tantalized men everywhere with the thought that it might grope its way toward solutions.”
The angry, fearful nation of today would do well to focus on this ideal in the days ahead. We must demand no less of our leaders – new and old.
The next president-elect and other leaders must be up to the task of bringing together the polyglot, often-at-loggerheads interests of a 21st century America. We don’t need more of the sorry performances of the recent past.
Gamesmanship is not governance. The next president, especially, must realize that intuitively. That is the least to be expected from the occupant of an office that has at hand the codes to weaponry that can destroy the world.
Working with the other branches of government to repair a tattered system will be difficult. It will require maturity, wisdom, superlative communication skills and a great leader’s sense of strategy and vision. Only then can the United States begin to restore a government capable of leading and performing well at home and abroad.
None of that will happen if the next president seeks a political path of fueling the fires of division. Harping on differences, legitimate or otherwise, or unleashing loose words that stoke anger – and even violence — will further assault a nation already reeling from roiling resentment. Americans deserve better.
These times cry for leaders who understand the Book of Proverbs’ ancient admonition that “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.”
America’s next president must get that. And he or she must know how to lead a divided nation toward greater unity among common goals. Hidden under all the noise are many things we still share in common. To believe otherwise is to have no hope for America’s future.
Leaders of both parties once embraced this point. In his 1969 inaugural address, Richard M. Nixon sounded as if he were speaking of this present day:
“The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker. This honor now beckons America — the chance to help lead the world at last out of the valley of turmoil, and onto that high ground of peace. … This is our summons to greatness. …
“We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them.
“To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit.
“To find that answer, we need only look within ourselves.
“When we listen to ‘the better angels of our nature,’ we find that they celebrate the simple things, the basic things — such as goodness, decency, love, kindness.
“The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.
“To lower our voices would be a simple thing.
“In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.
“We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another — until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”
America’s next leaders should absorb those words — and live by them.