I am a sucker for soaring rhetoric, especially when it is about our country.
So when Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden said in his acceptance speech, “Here and now I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us not the worst. I will be an ally of the light not the darkness. It is time for us, for We the People, to come together.” That appeals to me.
How could it not appeal to those of us who still hope that by working together on problems, by working through our conflicts, by searching for common ground while respecting our differences, that we can do better.
It is encouraging to hear Biden say his campaign “isn’t just about winning votes, it’s about winning the heart, and yes, the soul of America.”
But then there is the cold reality, the tribalism that has become so ingrained in our politics and even our culture. The centrifuge spins ever faster, separating us and making it even more difficult to achieve unity.
New York Times columnist and Pulitzer prize-winning author Thomas Friedman wrote recently that Lebanon serves as a warning of what is happening to the American political structure.
Yes, Friedman writes. Lebanese society is sectarian, with governing powers divided between Christian and Muslim sects. “Every job appointment, every investigation into malfeasance, every government decision to fund this and not fund that (is) seen as advantaging one group and disadvantaging another.”
Friedman said when that terrible explosion occurred recently in Beirut, the first question many Lebanese asked was, “who did it and for what advantage?”
We are not that divided in this country… yet, but sometimes it feels that way since everything is viewed through the lens of extreme politics.
As Friedman explains, “Our political differences are becoming so deep that our two parties now resemble religious sects in a zero-sum contest for power.”
That zero-sum approach means there are only winners and losers; one party is in power and tries to hold on, while the other blocks and tries to regain power. Governing gives way to the constant drive toward the next election.
“When everything is politics, everything is just about power,” Friedman writes. “There is no center, only sides; no truth, only versions; no facts, only a contest of wills.”
That constant contest of wills will wear us down. Highly partisan politicians will consistently repopulate to keep the chaos going, but the rest of us will grow even more exhausted, angry, frustrated, and disillusioned.
That is why Biden’s speech was inspiring. It appealed to, as Abraham Lincoln said, “The better angels of our nature.” But those words are in sharp contrast to the grim reality that those better angels may have already flown the coop.