Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
November 21, 2016
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to
recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.”
Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
African-American, writer, feminist, activist
In the aftermath of the election, with protests led by violent and professional protesters and a cast member of “Hamilton” peremptorily lecturing the newly elected Vice President, it may seem unrealistic to suggest that differences we have are reconcilable. But I believe they are.
In the heat of a political campaign, urged on by extremists from both Parties and encouraged by a biased press, we forget that all Americans ultimately want the same things: We all want a society that is fair, civil and free; one in which success is determined by meritocracy, not based on one’s parents. We want the rule of law, and we want justice meted out by a jury of one’s peers. We want peace and prosperity. We want hope for the future, and security at home and abroad. These wants are an expected part of the American experience.
Nevertheless, it is common, at times like these, to confuse means with ends – to focus on where we are most different, rather than on what we all share. That could be seen Friday evening when Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr in the Broadway hip-hop musical “Hamilton,” felt the need to instruct Vice President-elect Michael Pence – a man who spent a dozen years in the House of Representatives and four as Governor of Indiana – on the meaning of democracy. Mr. Dixon is free to speak as he wishes; however, his remarks were disrespectful and unfair to audience members who disagreed, but were compelled to listen to his harangue. For those who voted for Clinton his words may have provided a momentary sense of schadenfreude, but for those who voted for Trump he came across as pompous and sanctimonious.
It is in how to achieve common objectives that we differ. At its most fundamental, Democrats place more faith in government, while Republicans rely more heavily on free-market capitalism. Democrats prefer redistribution over lower taxes; tighter, rather than looser, regulations. But Democrats understand the need for the private sector, and Republicans recognize that government is essential to education, commerce and civility. It is in emphasis where there is disagreement.
A major problem, for which there is no apparent answer, is that Presidential campaigns last a minimum of two years, and often longer. One cannot keep audiences engaged for so long unless one turns his or her opponent into a Medusa or a Minotaur – thus the hatred and vitriol that have become commonplace. Positions are exaggerated; disinformation flows like wine at a fiesta, and words and phrases are taken out of context. Today, almost all that we say, write and do is recorded – and can be (and is) used against us. While a wealth of information is available to all, we have become a nation fallen victim to Attention Deficit Disorder. We talk, text or blog. We don’t ponder or weigh issues. The press does not help. Its claim is to present a “fair and balanced” debate, but in reality media is more interested in selling ads and promoting favored political candidates. Presidential politics have become big business. According to Bloomberg, through the 19th of October the Clinton campaign had spent $898 million, while Trump’s had spent $430 million – most of that money with the media on ads. Soundbites proliferate; news reports and analysis are partisan. They are all noise, as repetitious as a long-haul freight train at night.
With all that money, we heard little of the policy prescriptions that separate the Parties. Left out of the cacophony were significant discussions of the means by which the American dream can best be realized. Instead, we learned about Hillary’s e-mail travails and her cover-up of Benghazi, and we learned that Donald Trump has said things in private that most people would not. It was trivial pursuit, not a campaign befitting the oldest democracy on earth, the wealthiest country on the planet – a polyglot nation of 330 million people.
In their striving for victory, each side demeaned the other. Republicans were said to be mean-spirited, with little or no regard for women, minorities, gays or transgenders – a Party of “deplorables.” Democrats were seen as out of touch with reality, with little thought given to the consequences of their generous, but unrealizable promises – a Party of coastal elitists. In the election, Republicans focused on Middle-America’s “forgotten” men and women. Democrats divided the electorate under the guise of promoting diversity. In reaching out to myriad minorities, they ignored vast chunks of Americans. Republicans, with their focus on working-class whites, allowed themselves to be characterized as sexist, racist and xenophobic.
It is the admission of what we share that is missing – what the white, high school-educated worker, the Christian evangelist, the inner-city African-American, and the female gay activist have in common: A country dedicated to principles laid out in the Bill of Rights and in FDR’s “Four Freedoms.” Our differences are obvious, and have been magnified by proponents of identity politics. But, with respect and tolerance, faith and understanding, they are reconcilable. We should never, as Ms. Lorde implied in the rubric above, let differences make us strangers. Despite advocates, moral relativism serves to divide us. It focuses on what tears us apart, not on what unites us – family, community, patriotism, freedom and Thanksgiving!