Our Interesting Times

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Former British MP Joseph Chamberlain once claimed that there’s an old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Even though no such curse seems to exist in the Chinese culture, and it appears Chamberlain made it up, that quote’s been kicking around in my head for a while.  

Our current political environment qualifies as really “interesting times.” The partisanship and rancor that permeate everything about the upcoming elections trouble me more than anything else in our republic today.

It’s time we stepped back from the divide and carefully considered what we want for our children and ourselves. I don’t believe any of us wants the hostility in our politics today to continue or worsen. I believe that, left to our better selves, we want to see our nation succeed and our people flourish.   That’s why it’s so worrisome to me that we divide ourselves by red or blue, north or south, urban or rural, and pride ourselves on the wedges that keep us apart instead of bringing us together.

Our people show themselves at their best during times of crises.  Time after time, strangers help strangers by opening their hearts, their homes and their wallets for those injured or affected by a storm or other tragedy.  The question that persists is: why can’t this be the norm instead of the exception? Why is the disaster required?

I think the answer lies in part in the way many view our elections.   There is a tendency to see them as combative events where winning for “our team” is more important than winning for our country.   Many of our political candidates, elected officials and those in the media have become the champions of the zero-sum game: someone has to win and someone has to lose. We know there are winners and losers in elections, but after the political theater, instead of putting the contest aside, those we send to the statehouse or the national level of governance continue the blood sport of trying to destroy their political opponents.  Their perspective is to focus on winning the next election instead of doing the people’s business.

We can be better than this. We should recognize that in a country as large and diverse as ours would never have unanimity from her citizens.  There are different perspectives, issues, concerns that need to be acknowledged, and the response must answer as many of those concerns as possible.

We need to think about how we want our country to work and how we want the representatives we send to govern to focus on making the citizen’s lives better. The work of the nation should take precedence over the work of the party, or the ideology.  It should not be lost on anyone that we have a large percentage of the population in this country that are food insecure, have no health care, who are living at or below the poverty line, and have done so for decades regardless of the party or ideology in power. The work of our country demands that we put aside partisan differences and focus on results.

I believe in this country’s promise with all of my heart. I believe we have allowed ideology far too much priority over the necessary work of leadership.   We should ask ourselves, if a solution will genuinely help someone who needs it, does it matter if it’s a conservative idea or a liberal one? Does it matter if it was a Democratic or a Republican idea? Of course it doesn’t. It shouldn’t! Partisanship is preventing progress.

Those who decide to enter public life or to affect public policy should focus on how much their actions help to improve the lives of their constituents.  Anything else is a secondary concern. My votes and support will go to those who keep their focus on working for the people who are sending them to office. That’s why they’re called “representatives,” folks: they’re there to represent.