As I listened to President Trump’s State of the Union address and then to Joe Kennedy’s Democratic response I found myself asking a question I imagine was being asked by millions of other Americans: so what are you going to do about it?
The reality of the last two years is that the actions of partisan politicians, both the extremists and the run-of-the-mill loyal partisans, have been almost exclusively about dividing, not uniting our nation. They have deduced, with much help from highly paid political consultants, pollsters and other DC-zip-code professionals, that their best path to victory is to play to their bases, win primaries and then duke it out over a small handful of hotly contested seats. Because at the end of the day it’s all about the wins — and the power.
This is not good for the country.
While I heard a few things I liked in President Trump’s speech (streamlining infrastructure projects, supporting our veterans and honoring our nation, for example) I found it pretty impossible to believe his words about wanting to bring the country together when he also chose to highlight some of the most divisive issues in our nation.
And while I loved hearing Joe Kennedy speak Spanish and deliver some great rhetorical lines like, “Politicians can be cheered for the promises they make. Our country will be judged by the promises we keep,” I found his response completely lacking in substance and full of identity politics cat-calls to a grab bag of voting blocs the Democrats hope to get.
I’m so tired of it. And the fact that the night only makes space for two voices is a big part of the problem. We need more independent leaders who are unashamed to call out both sides and can do so with integrity and conviction, free from any party requirements, one-liners for the base and ready-made fundraising emails.
So I figure I should do my part. Here’s my “independent response” to the State of the Union for the rest of us:
The time has come for a new way in America. A truly new way. Not a warmed over rhetorical call to unity that lacks any ability or will to back it up. If we hope to rebuild a deep and lasting unity and heal the fractures between neighbors, friends and families, we must re-imagine our politics altogether.
On this, President Trump and I agree: We must “set aside our differences, to seek out common ground.” But the first step to finding common ground must be to lay down our weapons and agree to speak to one another in a genuine effort toward unity. The President, and the Republican Party at-large may call for unity but when they are open-carrying the weapons of their poisonous rhetoric and divisive legislative approach, no one believes they really want common ground.
On this, Joe Kennedy and I agree: “We are bombarded with one false choice after another.” But the biggest of all false choices in American politics today is that you must choose R or D. You don’t. You simply don’t have to. Our nation is built on an unprecedented freedom and that extends to your right and privilege to vote for whomever you wish. The Democrats actions show they only want you to swing the pendulum of power back to them. That’s a truly false choice — and one that won’t serve to unite the country.
So this year, if you really want to bring the nation together, send a message that you are more united with your fellow American than with your political party. That you care more about people than a party. Do it with your actions. Have coffee with your friend who voted for the other presidential candidate and ask them how they’re doing instead of trying to convince them of your views. Refuse to click on and share the divisive digital crack-cocaine of viral videos, memes and witty quotes. Maybe you should declare your independence from this truly false choice of only two parties by changing your voter registration. And when November comes, millions of us will have credible, serious independent candidates on our ballots. If you believe them to be worthy of your vote, give it to them.
The truth is, the state of our union is fragile. It has always been fragile. It’s time we stop treating politics as a bloodsport between two sides to be won or lost. Because here’s the reality: when this happens, it’s the American people that lose. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Maybe our mothers really knew the secrets after all. That we may not always get everything we want. That we should seek to leave things better than when we found them. That we should treat others the way we want to be treated.
It’s time to unite America with the hard work of one on one relationships, listening, compromise and strength of character that has been the hallmark of our greatest leaders. As we demand it with our votes and our voices, it will come. That, my friends, is the beauty of our great nation. Let’s reclaim it, together.