In our house, this past weekend was full of politics. We spent part of Friday and much of Saturday watching the live stream of Washington and Lee University’s Mock Republican Convention. The school has a long-standing tradition of every four years holding a mock convention for the party which is not currently in the White House. This is very involved and is research-based, culminating in the “convention” with the expected pomp and swagger. The school overall has a good track record, predicting the nominee correctly 19 times out of 25.
Overall, I think it was a wonderful experience for the students who got a glimpse of our political process and how it works. There was an impressive lineup of speakers, which included Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich, as well as Grover Norquist, Ed Gillespie, Ann Coulter, and KY Governor Matt Bevin. These speakers imparted their wisdom to the students and, once they were done getting in their partisan sound bites, most of them gave some very good life advice.
They told students to be innovative, to use technology to improve the common good, to think, to work to make the world better, to not be sheep, but rather shepherds, to be leaders. I think these are all things that we can stand behind and show that we do have things in common. The speakers that were best received by the mostly student audience (who by the way were not all Republicans) were those with a positive message.
It was interesting to observe the mock process and to watch the reactions of the students to the speakers and to the vote that followed. I am sure the event sparked animated conversations at the post-convention celebrations. From conversations with people associated with the university, (and comments made by speakers who are also alums) I have learned that this event is one of the things most remembered by students in their four years there.
Later Saturday was yet another Republican Presidential Debate. I have not watched all of the prior ones (in fact this is the only debate I watched in its entirely on either side), but this one did strike me as particularly argumentative and personal. I guess as the primaries occur and things heat up, this is frequently the case. I think it was notable that one candidate pointed out that the high level of negativity was likely to bring the party down as a whole.
Personally, I am getting weary of politics today. The rhetoric is only serving to make the US more polarized. There is too much talk of us versus them. I worry that the current political season is too angry. Recent years have seen politicians talking about defeating people, not policies. Right now, there is discord about approving the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice, even before anyone has even been proposed to fill the position. Taking politics out of this, should our country go a year without a fully working branch of government?
When I look at what is discussed at presidential debates I have to shake my head. I grew up believing I live in the best country in the world, one based on tolerance and respect. A country where anyone could rise to be and do anything (though in practice, until recently only wealthy white men were elected to the highest positions of power). Today I see people vying to be the leader of this great country who are talking about who people decide to love and marry and who will make decisions about personal medical decisions as if these are the issues of greatest import in this world. I am hearing people who may soon lead the free world talk about fellow world citizens in a condescending, even rude manner. I am hearing people throw phrases like “Pro-abortion” around (really, is there anyone who is advocating for more abortions?).
We live in a world of labels, but there is no one-size-fits-all label for anyone. I have friends who are on polar opposite sides of the political realm. When you look deeper, this opposite-ness really only pertains to some issues. When I witness heated discussions about political issues, people hissingly call each other liberals or conservatives as if each is inherently bad. On a n individual policy level though, there is often some agreement. Not all conservatives agree on all issues traditionally espoused by the conservative movement, likewise, not all liberals want to see the same policies enacted. In fact, most people I know cross “party lines” on at least one issue supposedly of great importance to the side they more closely identify with, ideologically speaking.
What sort of example are we setting, for our children and for the rest of the world? Those of us who come from families with a long history in this country have ancestors who came here for a better life. Some were escaping a bad situation, others were adventurous and ambitious. Our ancestors did not agree on everything, yet they found common ground and found ways to coexist and build communities together. Yes, in many cases we have been a nation of neighborhoods, where like-minded people found each other and lived near each other, continuing long-held traditions and establishing new ones. Yes, there has been conflict between them, sometimes violent, but in the past we have had leaders who have stepped up to help find the common ground, to find a way to get along, to get past our differences.
I think we are looking at this process all wrong. Pointing out our differences is not working. Name calling is not working. Standing firmly to party lines is not working. We should be doing more listening, searching for common ground, seeking out what we AGREE on. I think many will find that there is more there than they think. Working together is how we can make America great again. I only fear that this realization may come too late.