As we prepare to inaugurate a new President, we are living in an uncertain moment inside this democracy. There will be so much to say about this period concerning our American legacy. Our citizens are divided, many are angry, others confused. President Trump laid much of this upon us and he needs to be held accountable, but he did not create these divisions nor will his departure alter the deeper ideological and social constructs that are in place. History will measure his service, and time alone will allow for a broader perspective on this uncertain and troubling period.
In rejecting Donald Trump, we ought not to dismiss or marginalize his supporters, the 74 million Americans who aligned their beliefs and dreams with his Presidency. We are often consumed by our own political passions, at times clouding our view about those with whom we differ.
In my mind, the overt focus on demonizing this President and alienating his supporters can and will likely create a pushback. Yes, there is much to learn from these four years about the fragility of our democracy, the dangers of authoritarianism and the cult of personality, beyond the President’s dangerous beliefs and dysfunctional behaviors.
But if we only scrutinize the political right, we will have failed to understand the broader dynamics that define the unsettled character of the American landscape. There are, as we know, threats and grievances emerging on the left that challenge the core beliefs of many of us.
There is plenty of room here for reflection as both Republicans and Democrats need to revisit their beliefs, past behaviors, and future expectations in connection with the state of this society. As Martin Luther King noted, “People fail to get along because they fear each other.”
As this new national administration is launched, how do we operate in a state of creative tension, even as we know that the process of governance will remain messy and uneven. As we move closer to the 250th anniversary of our republic’s founding, what will this experiment in democracy look like, and what will it likely mean “to be an American”?
This nation has been tied to a two-party political system. Political contests are the essential expressions of a democracy. Competing viewpoints represents the character and substance of how representative democracies operate. We embrace the noble opposition, those who bring forward coherent and responsible ideas, possibly different from our own, about how best to govern and manage this society. That is the sacred duty of our citizens to judge the content and performance of those who we elect to serve.
Amidst the many challenges before us, the pathway forward will involve taking a series of steps, among others:
Rebuilding Trust in our Leaders and Strengthening our Civic Institutions
Focusing on Shared Priorities and Core Needs
Providing Opportunities for Healing and Celebrating
Reopening Conversations about American Democracy: Examining what this experiment is all about, what seems to be working, and what appears to be broken. Re-engaging Americans in learning more about our Constitution and in addressing the unresolved historic questions of this nation, among them, racism, states rights, individual rights vs the greater public good, and the church-state equation.
No doubt, some reading this message will push back, demanding a more resolute condemnation of this President and his enablers. Or a rejection of any effort to equate or confront the messengers of the political left with the recent actions we have experienced. Some may be unhappy to any suggestion of giving equal measure or balance in this moment. Others will walk away from this place, seeing it as an unsettling nightmare, wanting to push politics away, without reflection or consideration. Some will hold firmly to their political beliefs, rejecting any critical reflection.
“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear,” suggested Dr. King. Without a candid review of what went down in America, including our own responses, we may well fail to fully understand what has transpired and what this may mean for our future. “We the People” makes us all both actors and respondents.
Democracies demand critical self-criticism from its citizens. We, the members of this society, are the collective “state” and as such, we must constantly assess the health and welfare of this society. As we move to this new place in our nation’s history, we will need to work for a “more perfect union”.