Normally, I stay away from writing the “Why can’t we all get along?” editorials about politics. For two reasons: one is that the premise is so sickly sweet, it kind of turns my stomach. The other is that politics, by definition, is the process of not getting along until one side or the other has enough votes to win and set policy.
Unity is very nice when it comes to putting one’s hand over the heart to salute the flag, but aside from that it’s kind of useless as long as two (or even three or four) sides have significant disagreements as to what constitutes doing what’s right.
That’s why I usually cringe when politicians say, “it’s the right thing to do,” or “We don’t do this because it’s against our values.” The whole process of politics involves hammering out what the “right thing” is and in establishing what our “values” are, since America is not founded on the laws of the Medes and the Persians, as mentioned in the Book of Daniel, “which altereth not.” Our “values” unlike our Constitution, constantly evolve.
But there is much room for “unity” when it comes to things that we can agree to oppose, like violence against racial groups or even against differing political parties. This week, after the horrific slaughter at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh, the enduring film star Tom Hanks proved once again what a basically decent human being he is when he Twittered a picture of a sign at a church that said, “Love They Neighbor. No exceptions.” Hanks exudes this decency in most of his film roles, and even when I disagree with him politically, which is almost always, I think to myself, “I’d love to know the man.”
I was reminded earlier this week that there are tasteful, classy ways of disagreeing with one’s political adversaries and tasteless, classless ways of expressing such disagreement.
Somebody brought my attention to the fact that one of the political organizations at the Grand Avenue Street Festival (I won’t mention the name, in order to avoid inflaming the matter) was selling a t-shirt that depicted the shirt being hit by a bullet and a splash of red blood and the words: “(Political party’s name) Lawlessness, Corruption and Death.”
Given the current somewhat harsh political climate, it seems to me that such a t-shirt is not helpful. In my other life as an historian, I have read many times how, in the years following the American Civil War that the Republican party, in order to win national elections, would paint the Democrats—many of whom had been Confederate sympathizers—as the party of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.” I’m guessing that some of them were Catholics and liked to take a drink from time to time. This style of campaigning was known as “Waving the bloody shirt.” It won many elections.
It is sad to think that “waving the bloody shirt” has gotten a modern day revival, although I know that it’s true. No party or faction has a monopoly on decency, truth, the right values or patriotism.
There is no more room for “the party of Lawlessness, Corruption and Death” than there was for “the basket of deplorables,” when a certain presidential candidate used that term about the people that were going to vote against her.
We should come together where our values intersect, to condemn mindless savagery, to let everyone have their say, even when we disagree with them (especially when we do) and to fight our battles at the ballot box.
The only red shirt that we should wave is one that says, “I have voted.”