Not long ago I went away for the day and met a friend in Springfield for a tour of the Lincoln Museum. One of the movies perfectly captured the polarization of America during that time and the tense and fractured political landscape of the country at the time of Lincoln’s election. My friend looked at me as the movie ended and exclaimed, “...it’s like history has repeated itself! That’s like when Obama was elected!”
A few weeks later I sit on the other side of yet another election. This election has left the country polarized in a way that is only rivaled by 1860, I fear. Just as then, it isn’t about any one issue. It isn’t just slavery or gay rights. It isn’t just liberal versus conservative. It isn’t just about state’s rights or the debt ceiling.
The polarized political climate reaches beyond national advertisements, party platforms, and speeches. Polarization happens over the “water cooler” in the workplace, across the dinner table, in the comments on youtube, and in timelines on facebook. The polarized political landscape is as personal as it is national.
Yesterday after I voted, I sat at the Bone Student Center (Illinois State University) doing church work. At the table behind me I overheard a student asking another student who he had voted for. The second student replied that he voted for Obama. Before storming off, the first student exclaimed, “What?! Are you an f-ing idiot? You know you’re either an American or a democrat!’”
Wow. I feel as though we have come to a time in American politics that we must be very, very careful. It isn’t that the issues before us aren’t personal, they are. Yet, this country and, therefore, politics is, in the end, about people. We disagree. We have different perspectives. We may even stand completely opposed to one another. We cannot, however, forget that we are brothers and sisters. We cannot forget that we have a mandate from history (and our constitution) to stand united and we have a Biblical and moral mandate to love those who are our neighbors, even our opponents.
I don’t have a political answer for this divided country. I know not how to bring all of this nation together through some program, initiative, or (God forbid) war, but I think that much of the solution starts in learning, again, a thing called civil discourse. I think that we must learn to recognize the goodwill of the person across the aisle (or table) and remember that any mess (political or otherwise): we are in it together.
Today is not about gloating or finger-pointing. Today is not about who won or who lost. And, most importantly, today is not about right or wrong, righteous or unrighteous. Today is about healing and moving forward. Let us pledge to look for injustice in the world and, hand-in-hand with the people around us (Dem, GOP, Green, or other), let us find ways to work to make this world better than when we found it.
cover image from: http://www.bizjournals.com/triad/blog/morning-edition/2012/10/ways-to-avoid-political-divisiveness.html