Of Blackish, Political Discourse, Lemons, and Lemonade
I've told my kids for as long as I can remember that when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. So watching Blackish last night made me think about whether I'm following my own advice.
I'm not happy about the election. My Republican friends would say I wouldn't have been happy about any GOP candidate winning the election, and to an extent that's true. But Trump isn't any GOP candidate. To me, he represents the worst of U.S. politics, and I believe we always deserve the best.
And that's what Blackish reminded me last night. We all love our country. We all have different ideas on what is best for our country, but we all believe it is, or can be, the best. We believe in the people. We know that when there's a crisis, we can and will band together and rise above it. We know that when Americans need help, other Americans are the first to provide it. As an immigrant friend once observed to me: "Americans hate each other, until you mess with one of them. Then watch out, because they'll all come together and beat the crap out of you."
Most, or many of us, believe that diversity is our strength. That the interaction of multiple cultures and religions teaches us and enriches us and makes our country livelier. Many of us also believe the same about different political points of view: Disagreement isn't dangerous, it's healthy. As the Founders showed us, it's in the crucible of discussion and through the process of debate and compromise that long-lived policy is forged. The Constitution is coming up on 230 years and it's only been amended 27 times. No one left the Constitutional Convention completely happy -- they all had to give up something to get something. But what they gave us has stood the test of time.
But somewhere along the line, we've stopped debating, or at least debating with the goal of reaching understanding. Compromise has become a dirty word, a sign of "weakness." Our political discourse is cast in terms of "either/or" and not in terms of "consensus." We've stopped searching--together--for common ground and entrenched ourselves into two camps, and if you're not in my camp then you must be against me. Mostly, we've gotten so engaged in arguing our point of view that we've totally forgotten the second part of communicating -- listening. We've stopped listening to each other, or at least, listening to understand each other, and instead are arguing just to win.
So that's where I'm going to start. I'm going to start listening. I'm going to stop blaming, and name-calling, and labeling, and thinking that if I'm right anyone who disagrees with me must be wrong, and try to understand what people who disagree with me are thinking. I want to know why people voted for Trump, what they think he will accomplish, and what they based their opinions on. I want to see if some of the things they've objected to about our government are, at heart, the same things I've been objecting to, but maybe they see it another way. I want to understand what interests they think aren't being served and how they think Trump and the Republicans will serve them better.
And, mostly, I want to see what we have in common. I want to find areas of agreement. I want to throw off the labels and the cliches and just look at information -- facts -- and if we can agree on facts, then can we reach consensus solutions. I want to find other people who are willing to debate, discuss, and compromise, and then if and when there are enough of us, demand that our political leaders do the same.
Because everything we see our political leaders doing, my friends, they are learning from us. Our politicians stopped reaching consensus when we stopped demanding it. Our politicians became more bipartisan when our discussions became less tolerant. Our politicians learned that if they want to keep their jobs, then they have to reflect the views of the people who vote for them, and not try to bridge the gap to find agreement with the other side.
So if we change our dialog, and if we change our expectations, and if we start demanding compromise in the common interest, then our political leaders will follow. Because the more we listen and learn from each other, the more our political leaders will learn from us.
And that's the lemonade I hope we can make from this election of 2016.