Walking Back From Tribalism

The death of an American President is indeed a most curious time for the country. Of course the Presidency is the highest office in the land, and the only elected official that we all share, so it’s sensible that we would remember them, and reflect on their legacy in defining an era for our nation.

But each time this happens, it’s also immediately, maybe subconsciously compared to the present moment as well. Suddenly, we judge that era by the rules which are in place today, forgetting all the steps tile had to take in between to get us to the present. It’s a most peculiar form of time travel.

As Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes, this is absolutely the case at this moment, our National Day Of Mourning for President George H.W. Bush…

On Twitter over the weekend, the television writer Bryan Behar did something unconscionable.

He praised George H.W. Bush.

The former president had just died. In Behar’s view, it was a moment to recognize any merit in the man and his legacy.

Many of his followers disagreed. They depended on Behar for righteous liberal passion, which left no room for such Bush-flattering adjectives and phrases as “good,” “decent” and “a life of dignity.” How dare Behar lavish them on a man who leaned on the despicable Willie Horton ad, who nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, who did too little in the face of AIDS, whose privilege often blinded him to need.

They lashed out at Behar. They unfollowed him. And they demonstrated the transcendent curse of these tribal times: Americans’ diminishing ability to hold two thoughts at once.

Bush has indelible stains on his record. He also has points of light. At times he failed the responsibilities of leadership. At times he did right by them. He showed folly and he showed wisdom, cowardice and courage, aloofness and kindness.

Accentuating the positive, especially in the hours after his death, didn’t eliminate the negative.

Tribalism is a vortex that really leaves us so little room to be the complex, multi-dimensional people that we are. Whether it be arguments over President Bush 41’s record, or figuring out our current struggles in governing, we have to find our way back to creating space for common-sense solutions and compromise. Wounds from these political bunkers have grown so deep, it’s sometimes difficult for us to even speak to each other. 

Like being in a choir full of strong-willed individual voices, if none of them are listening to each other, the choir is not going to be very good.

And therein lies the first set of directions for how to get back to a healthier nation. We have to listen to each other, and maybe even remember that occasionally, good ideas can come from people that aren’t on our side.  All the time that Conservatives spend demonizing Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, that is time they lose learning about the Billions Of Dollars in new investment opportunities such a new deal could bring.

In this moment of reflection, let us hope that we can chart a path back to the listening, common sense solutions and compromise which have sustained America through the centuries, and healed us at our most fractious times.  We all know that a better, greater version of ourselves exists, and it’s time that we meet them again.

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