Opinion

LAMBERT: Towards Greater Civility

The 2016 presidential election campaign helped determine the 45th president of the United States but it will be remembered for a number of other issues that should be of concern for anyone who loves and is concerned about the direction our country is headed.

Pundits, experts and others have described the 18-month run to the presidency as everything from chaotic and unnerving to alarming, tumultuous and unprecedented in the modern era because of the undisguised hostility between both political camps and their supporters, the near-absence of civility and the no-holds-barred fight to the finish.

And although the race was decided on Nov. 8, the country and its inhabitants will be dealing with the fallout for the foreseeable future.

The polarizing nature of both candidates, the deep the anger and frustration of segments of the electorate, a profound desire for change, the anonymity of social media, and what was at stake all contributed to the rough and tumble nature of the campaign.

Now, as we move forward, it is incumbent on each of us — all of us — dig deeply to rediscover comity, tolerance and the sense of community that most of us took for granted. It is clear that we don’t understand each other and for far too long, we’ve been talking past each other.

As the year draws to a close, it’s very clear that we as a country have lost our way.

Impoliteness and bad and boorish behavior is fashionable, anti-intellectualism appears to be standard operating procedure and too many people revel in tossing aside what they disparagingly label political correctness. The result is corrosive cynicism, a bitter and divided electorate and the erosion of institutions like government, the media, the church and other public institutions, Congress and the Executive.

So what happens now?

How do we find our way back? Where within and around us can we generate hope and optimism? How do we counter the deep pools of hate and anger and build community that is more focused on us being human beings and not on the vagaries of our color, race or status? What are some of the best ways to stimulate the type of civic activism that encourages better listening and greater participation? How do we reintroduce respect and appreciation for each other despite our differences?

There is a very real fear from more than a few quarters of the consequences, intended and otherwise, on a country torn asunder by eight years of hyper-partisan bickering between members of both major political parties, intractable Congressional gridlock and politicians more interested in one-upsmanship than governing. That antagonism has filtered down to the people and during the election campaign we saw political differences and disputes rip apart families, longtime friends, partners and co-workers.

Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address — as the issues of slavery and secession threatened to tear the U.S. apart — reflected on the importance of Americans remembering that they had much more in common than they had differences.

“… 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 across every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, yet will swell the chorus of Union when again touched, as surely as they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

America must employ the better angels of our nature.

As difficult as it appears, with emotions rubbed raw and the wound torn open and bleeding, we as a country must in 2016 and beyond, find ways to bridge the wide chasm that separates us by political affiliation, belief, class, color and ethnicity. To do any less will result in the country descending further into an abyss of reprisal, retribution, revenge and payback.

In an alienated country divided into “us” versus “them,” can we afford to sacrifice some parts of our nation and certain constituencies to save ourselves? It should never be okay to embrace selfishness and destructive behavior born out of a sense of fear and/or privilege.

We would be wise to consider James W. Fulbright’s very prudent advice: “We must dare to think ‘unthinkable’ thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world. We must learn to welcome and not to fear the voices of dissent. We must dare to think about ‘unthinkable things’ because when things become unthinkable, thinking stops and action becomes mindless.”

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